It’s hard to tell where and when, but at some point, the term “student-athlete” went from being a noble concept to a tongue-in-cheek joke. Especially when referring to major college football, which has seen its share of scandals involving student-athletes in recent years.
However, a recent study by The Institute For Diversity And Ethics In Sports (TIDES) shows that the graduation rates have increased slightly for the 70 teams competing in this year’s Division I Football Bowl Subdivision’s postseason bowls. While that may sound promising, there is still work to be done, as disparities between African-American student-athletes and their White counterparts remain significant.
Richard Lapchick, director of TIDES, said, “The academic success of FBS football student-athletes continued to grow this year. The overall football student-athlete Graduation Success Rate (GSR) for bowl-bound teams improved from 68 percent to 69 percent.”
However, the graduation rate for African-American student-athletes remains 20 percentage points below that of their White counterparts, 62 percent compared to 82 percent. The study also found that 19 percent of this year’s bowl-participating schools graduated less than half of their African-American athletes, while only 1 out of 70 had a Caucasian graduation rate of less than 50 percent.
Lapchick told the Associated Press that he thinks the recent awareness raised by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and NAACP President Ben Jealous has been instrumental in pushing schools to make academic progress by athletes a priority.
“I think the threat of the loss of scholarships has great meaning for coaches today,” Lapchick said. “Even with football teams being so much bigger than in basketball, coaches want to protect those slots. They have become more engaged themselves and are getting the resources into academic affairs to get students who maybe weren’t as engaged in high school to be more successful at their universities.”
According to the study, African-American student-athletes at bowl-participating schools are actually graduating at a higher rate than African-American males who do not participate in intercollegiate athletics.
Overall, TIDES’ study showed that the trends seem to be flowing in the right direction. As recently as 2009, those rates were 58 percent for African-American and 77 percent for White athletes. That’s an increase of four percentage points for African-Americans and five for Caucasians.
“There are a few perspectives on that gap,” Lapchick said. “Graduation rates have significantly gone up annually a few points each year, and that’s the good news.”
Here is the not-quite-so-good news as it pertains to bowl-bound teams:
• 64 schools (91 percent) had graduation success rates of 66 percent or higher for White football student- athletes, which was more than 2.6 times the number of schools with equivalent graduation success rates for African-American football student-athletes (25 schools, or 36 percent). This statistic stayed the same from last year.
• 69 out of the 70 schools (99 percent) graduated 50 percent or higher of their White football student-athletes while 57 of the 70 (81 percent) bowl-bound schools graduated 50 percent or higher of their African-American football student-athletes.
• One school (one percent) graduated 40 percent or less of their African-American football student-athletes, while no school graduated 40 percent or less of its White football student-athletes. This was the same as last year.
In addition to graduation rates, the study also examined the participating schools’ Academic Performance Rate. The APR is a metric created by the NCAA in 2004 to measure the eligibility and retention of Division I athletes and is used as an early evaluator as future graduation rates. Individual teams are penalized by the NCAA if they fall below the APR standard of 925. The only means of punishment, however, is loss of up to 10 scholarships. The study found that only two bowl-bound teams, Louisville and Louisiana at Monroe, fell below the 925 mark.
The study also noted that three teams that traditionally participate in postseason bowl games, the Ohio State University, Penn State University and the University of North Carolina At Chapel Hill, were banned by the NCAA for infractions and that the University of Miami voluntarily decided not to participate.
Lapchick did note the two teams headlining this bowl season are in good academic standing.
“Notre Dame and Alabama, which will contend for the National Championship, both had fine academic records. They had APR rates of 970 each. They graduated 97 percent and 75 percent of all their football student-athletes,” he said. “They beat the national average for bowl teams in each category.”