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Academic Progress at FBS Schools Continues, But So Do Racial Disparities

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) has issued “Keeping Score When It Counts: Assessing the Academic Records of the 2023-2024 Bowl-Bound College Football Teams.” The study assesses football teams at 82 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) institutions. NCAA statistics were used for this study.

The overall academic success of college football student-athletes has remained the same from last year with an 83% Graduation Success Rate (GSR), but the gap between Black and white football student-athletes has increased. The average GSR for white football student-athletes increased from 91% in 2022 to 92.5% in 20023. The average GSR for Black football student-athletes decreased from 79.5% in 2022 to 79.3% in 2023.

Dr. Adrien BouchetDr. Adrien BouchetDr. Adrien Bouchet, the director of TIDES and primary author of the study, said it is important to keep a focus on academics while the on the field product keeps getting more commercialized. He noted that this isn’t only the case for football, but in many sports, such as women’s volleyball and softball and men’s baseball.

The four universities that were selected to compete in the College Football Playoff for the National Championship graduated the following overall percentages of their football student-athletes: University of Alabama (93%), University of Michigan (89%), University of Washington (84%) and University of Texas at Austin (75%). The differences between Black and white student-athletes are: Alabama (92%/94%), Michigan (88%/100%), Washington (81%/95%) and Texas-Austin (68%/92%). The report refers to those gaps as disturbing.

 “[The gap] continues to be an issue,” said Bouchet. “It has gotten better over the years, but there persistently remains this gap that we can’t seem to make a lot of headway in closing.”

The four universities showed solid numbers with their Academic Progress Rates (APR) with Alabama 995, Michigan 987, Washington 986 and Texas-Austin 974.

Over the past couple of years, football student-athletes have had access to opportunities related to their name, image and likeness (NIL), which potentially could take time away from academics. Bouchet said NIL has been available for a short period of time, so that impact of that cannot be gauged as yet.

“I don’t know if it’s [NIL] so much as the commercialization of the product,” said Bouchet. “That affects every bit of the…football coaching and support staff. The constant demands on their times that the media, the sponsors, the ticket sales put on them. … Going forward NIL is going to be more of a factor.”

Nine of the 82 institutions had a higher GSR for Black football student-athletes than white football student-athletes, which is two more than in 2022. These were University of Wyoming, Auburn University, University of Texas at San Antonio, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Arkansas State University, Rice University, Oregon State University, Boston College and Northwestern University.

Michael HarrisMichael HarrisMichael Harris, director of student-athlete academic services at Boston College, said intentionality is key. Student-athletes are expected to graduate in eight semesters. Essential to achieving that is seeing that they register for 15 credits each semester and making sure that student-athletes are on track.

“We’re not afraid to specifically address Black male student-athlete achievement,” said Harris, who oversees all student-athlete academic support services and is also an athletics diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) designee, which involves overseeing the athletics department’s DEI initiatives. “We understand that Black student-athletes are at the core of several of our revenue sports, football and men’s basketball included. We make intentional efforts to make sure those students are being successful through student support services, integrating them into the institution, finding opportunities for them to be leaders, community service and community engagement.”

Boston College is a Catholic institution, which Harris noted makes it particularly mission-driven and social justice conscious. There is a Black Male Initiative, which is open to all male student-athletes of color or student-athletes who identify with socioeconomic struggles. Even the team’s chaplain, Fr. Jack Butler, creates a home away from home environment. These play a role in student retention and completion.

“The only way it gets better is if you constantly shine a light on it,” said Bouchet, who noted that there was no hesitation in continuing these reports following the retirement of TIDES founder Dr. Richard Lapchick. “Our job is to say, ‘Here is what the data says.’ It’s up to the college athletics leaders… to answer these questions.” 

Harris, a former football student-athlete, gladly shares details of Boston College’s success. One crucial point is not to view Black male student-athletes from a deficit mindset. Start out with the mindset that they are going to graduate. 

“We’re very intentional here about making sure that we’re never labeling a kid as being unable to do the basic expectation that any college student would have,” said Harris. “When you’re taking 15 credits every semester and you have access and ability to take between six and nine credits in summer school, graduation should be a no brainer.”

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