Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Keeping the right score

While those college football pundits fumble and bumble about the latest BCS ratings, that put Ohio State and Louisiana State in the national championship game, none of these experts ever talk about graduation rates as Richard Lapchick routinely does.

Lapchick, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), writes each year, "Keeping Score When It Counts," which assesses the 64 bowl bound college football teams. In his report, released December 3, he says that the gap between Black and White football student-athletes increased slightly.

"Twenty-seven teams or 42 percent of the bowl-bound schools graduated less than half of their African-American football student-athletes," says Dr. Lapchick in this year's report. "Only Florida Atlantic graduated less than half of their White football student-athletes."

Other findings include:
--Seven schools had their Black players graduate at a less than 40 percent pace
--No school graduated less than 40 percent of their White players
--14 schools had graduation rates for Black players that were at least 30 percent lower than their White players
--24 schools had graduation rates for Black players at least 20 percent lower than Whites
--Only four schools had Black graduation rates better than their White players: Florida Atlantic (15 percent higher), Florida State (10 percent higher), Connecticut (four percent higher) and Rutgers (two percent higher). Only one school did this last year

"Each year the most disturbing information in the graduation rate study is the disparity between the graduation rates of African-American and White football student-athletes," continues the good doctor. "While the graduation rates for African-American student-athletes have improved, the disparity has persisted for years. A wide gap remains . . . in spite of all this progress with graduation rates."

In the 2006 report, Lapchick reported 86 percent of the bowl teams had a 50 percent graduation rate for their players; this year it's 88 percent. Of teams receiving a score of more than 925 on the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate (APR), 73 percent made the cut as opposed to 63 percent in 2006.

The NCAA created the APR in 2004 as part of an academic reform package introduced by President Myles Brand, which more accurately measure student-athletes' academic success as as improve graduation rates at member institutions.

Two percent progress over a season should be noted, but not a standing ovation's worth. It also should be noted that among the 120 Division I-A (the Football Bowl Subdivision) schools, "the 14 percent gap is actually larger than the 13 percent (62 vs. 49 percent) gap reported in the 2006 study," admits Lapchick.

Ohio State and LSU has graduation rates of 53 and 51 percent, respectively. However, the Buckeyes do a slightly better job in graduating its Black players (43 percent) than their opponent (42).

Maybe through such a cockeyed system that the BCS is, these two teams qualify for the national championship on the gridiron, but if the schools that not only play winning football but also put academics in its proper perspective, namely graduating all its players, "Navy and Boston College would have played for the National Championship," notes Lapchick. "Both teams graduate at least 93 percent of all football student-athletes and at least 89 percent of African-American football student-athletes."

Navy (982) and Boston College (976) have the the top APR scores, adds Lapchick.

But talking about books would make for good television for the blowhards on ESPN, ABC and all the other sports talkers. No, they rather talk about how one school got screwed, or that because their schedule played out earlier than the others, how another school (Ohio State)shouldn't qualify for a championship game.

Then of course, there's the annual call for a college football playoff system, but these are just cries in the money-hungry wilderness, only to be heard by a few interested folk.

Only someone like me, and a few others, see Lapchick's carefully researched studies as something that should be on the front page, not some two-paragraph mention, buried inside.

Nonetheless, as the shepherds in old Bethlehem, this reporter will continue to keep up my watch, both day and night. Not for a messiah, but for some day, that all colleges, and not just the Navys and Boston Colleges will put as much effort in making sure its players -- all its players, graduate at an equal pace.

It surely would be the day to see APR scores endlessly rolling on ESPN's Bottom Line, and football pundits gushing about football players walking down the aisle with sheepskins, rather than running down the field with pigskins.

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