Dollar$ and Sense: Higher Education Stakeholders Express Concern That Many NCAA Division I Institutions Prioritize Athletics Revenue over Student Learning and Degree Completion

By Stuart, Reginald | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, February 16, 2012 | Go to article overview

Dollar$ and Sense: Higher Education Stakeholders Express Concern That Many NCAA Division I Institutions Prioritize Athletics Revenue over Student Learning and Degree Completion


Stuart, Reginald, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


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When fans of intercollegiate basketball see the month of arch approach, they know it's time for the near-marathon round of March Madness when the best of the nation's college basketball teams square off in a battle to the finish for the NCAA Division I championship.

It's the month when basketball powerhouses seek to reaffirm their status and unknown schools and players become overnight basketball legends.

Overshadowed by the fan enthusiasm and newspaper and television cameras is the largely ignored and sobering fact that many of these celebrated Division I basketball players will never graduate or play professionally. These players, increasingly a person of color over the past decade, make up the embarrassing downside of NCAA basketball, a situation largely ignored by the academic leaders who count on revenue from intercollegiate sports, especially basketball and football, to fuel their athletic programs.

"I just absolutely resent the fact that too many universities just use these athletes. They don't help them become students," says Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "They just use them (the students) to make money for the university, use them up, don't help them get a degree, and they (the student athletes) leave with nothing to show for it," says Duncan. Duncan has repeatedly called NCAA and member schools to task over what he and other critics describe as an unacceptable level of commitment to the education of student-athletes.

Duncan's tough language is backed by volumes of research in the past decade by a variety of groups advocating a greater balance between academic and athletic achievement. The groups range from the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a Knight Foundation-funded panel that has advocated changes in college athletics, to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, a University of Central Florida research center headed by Dr. Richard Lapchick. The institute tracks academic performance and graduation rates among student-athletes at major colleges that are bowl and tournament bound.

For several years, the institute has conducted annual studies of the graduation success rates, or GSR, and academic progress rates, or APR, of NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament-bound teams, among other segments of men's athletics and women's basketball.

In its most recent report on men's teams in the March 2011 March Madness NCAA basketball tournament, the institute found a 66 percent graduation rate for all male basketball student-athletes, two points higher than the findings of its study a year earlier. The study determined that among White players there was a 91 percent graduation rate, while Black players had a 59 percent graduation rate. The study also found the graduation-by-race gap widening year after year, as the rate of graduation for Whites continues to rise at a much faster pace than that for Blacks.

In separate data gathered by the NCAA, the graduation rate for men's basketball players at most HBCUs was even worse.

In commenting on his institute's March 2011 report, Lapchick said, "The report presents good news about the overall graduation rates, which continue to rise for both White and African-American basketball student-athletes. APR also rose.

"However, the staggering gap between the graduation rates of African-American and White student-athletes grew by four percentage points to an even more unacceptable 21 percent," Lapchick continues. "This was the third successive year the gap grew from 22 percent in 2009 to 28 percent in 2010 to the current 32 percent."

Achievement gap woes

Members of the academy offer a range of explanations for the graduation rate news. Many freshmen enter college underprepared and find the demands to produce in sports activities and in class simply overwhelming, they note. The students' poor grades eliminate them, even in cases where teachers have tried to help. …

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