Black Basketball Players’ Graduation Rates Sink
INDIANAPOLIS — Graduation rates for African American college athletes in both men’s and women’s basketball sank again, setting off fresh concern that schools care more a winning season than academic excellence.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association reported this month the graduation rate for black male basketball players at the nation’s biggest colleges and universities plunged from 37 percent to 33 percent — the lowest rate since 1985.
That was the year before the NCAA implemented higher eligibility standards for student athletes in hopes that might help the push the graduation rate higher — a strategy that athletics experts say apparently has failed.
Meanwhile, the graduation rate for women’s basketball players who are African American also fell from 55 percent to 49 percent. Nevertheless, that rate still is 8 percent higher than that of the general black female student population.
Those dramatic drops come even as the graduation rate for all student athletes in Division I colleges and universities inched up 1 percent to 58 percent — better the rate for the overall student population at 56 percent.
“College basketball and football are big-money business,” says Charles Farrell, director of Rainbow Sports, a division of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push Wall Street Project. “This clearly shows that academics is not part of the business of college sports.
“It also indicates very clearly that the NCAA has concentrated on eligibility requirements rather than on graduation rates,” he adds, “and that institutions are not doing enough to help student athletes academically.”
NCAA officials deny that they don’t emphasis academic performance, pointing to a recent proposal to punish colleges and universities where graduation rates slip by yanking the number of athletic scholarships those schools can offer.
“There’s no question about it — we’re concerned. The schools are equally concerned,” says Charles Whitcomb, a San Jose State University professor and chairman of the NCAA’s minority opportunity interest committee.
“This is something that is not acceptable. We need to work more diligently with our student athletes and the institutions. Each has a responsibility in this. It is a partnership. That doesn’t just mean you show up for games and get a diploma.”
While other NCAA officials did not return telephone calls seeking comment on the plight of black male basketball players, NCAA President Dr. Cedric Dempsey did release a statement about declining graduation rates for women athletes.
The rate for all women basketball players dropped again for the third straight year, declining 4 percent to bring the graduation rate down to 62 percent. Still, that rate is 3 percent higher than for the general female student population.
“Three straight years of decreasing rates among female basketball players is distressing to me,” Dempsey said. “We don’t know what the causes for the decline are. But it’s certainly an area that needs to be monitored.”
Lee McElroy, the athletic director at American University in Washington, D.C., says coaches and the athletes themselves must shoulder some of the blame for the dropping graduation rates for black basketball players.
“The problem is one of expectations,” McElroy says. “The expectations on the part of the athlete and the institutions has to be higher. We all have to get our priorities in order so that the term ‘student athlete’ is not an oxymoron.
“Athletes have to want an education. Less than one-tenth of 1 percent will have the opportunity to go pro. If they get in, the average tenure is 5 years,” he adds. “But those facts often get lost in the glare of TV and the big contracts and the NBA.”
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