Claremore Daily Progress

Sports Columnists

March 15, 2012

DAHLBERG: Academics still second at many schools

NEW YORK — Filling out a bracket for the NCAA tournament is pretty much a crapshoot, no matter how much you study or how good you guess. That was especially true last year, when no No. 1 seed made the Final Four yet Butler somehow found its way there for the second straight year.

Figuring out which schools care as much about academics as they do basketball is a lot easier.

Attend Duke or, say, Creighton and you're pretty much assured a degree if not a career in the NBA. Both schools in recent years graduated all their basketball players, as did four other teams in this year's field.

Matriculate somewhere else, and you might end up working behind the counter at Subway.

That's the reality of college athletics, where the payoff for athletes doesn't come close to matching the payday for schools. The NCAA tournament is a billion-dollar-a-year business that distributes riches to almost everyone involved except the ones who really count - the unpaid labor toiling on the court.

They play for the fun of the game and, for an elite few, the hope of making it in the pros. For the vast majority, though, the only payout in the end is a college degree they might not have been able to pursue if not for their ability on the basketball court.

Unfortunately, some schools are failing their athletes - and failing them miserably. That's especially true when it comes to black basketball players.

Richard Lapchick, who does an annual report on graduation rates for the University of Central Florida, said black players are graduating at a 60 percent rate while white players were at 88 percent.

At the University of Florida, only one in five black basketball players get their degrees, according to NCAA statistics. At the University of Virginia, it's one in three. And it doesn't take a math major to figure out that a 14 percent graduation rate among black players at defending national champion Connecticut is both abysmal and disgraceful.

"We used to report schools that hadn't graduated a black basketball player in a decade and the NCAA couldn't do a thing about it,'' said Lapchick, whose studies on race and academics in colleges as director of UCF's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, have helped draw attention to a subject once rarely discussed. "Now they can.''

The good news is that things are getting marginally better. Coaches are being forced to pay more attention to academics, and there are new penalties that will eventually reduce the number of basketball factories in the nation's institutes of higher education.

They're hardly perfect, and they contain way too many loopholes for a cagey coach to exploit. But they are a start, and the potential ban of UConn from next year's tournament because of poor academics should serve as a wakeup call for those who still don't get it.

Credit NCAA president Mark Emmert for some of it. He runs an organization that in the past appeared to be uncertain about its true purpose, which is to educate athletes and protect the integrity of college athletics. Since coming on board a little more than a year ago, he has repeatedly pushed proposals for tougher academic standards, some more effective than others.

Give Education Secretary Arne Duncan an assist, too. The former Harvard basketball player has made it his annual mission as the tournament rolls around to remind folks that coaches, as well as universities, need to be held accountable for performance in the classroom.

"Where folks take this seriously, and build it as part of their institutional culture, really good things happen to student-athletes,'' Duncan said Wednesday. "If folks want to play around the margins and not take it seriously, we can address that.''

A lot of folks have played around the margins - and still do. Eight schools in this year's tournament fall below the minimum graduation rate standards set by the NCAA and face sanctions if they don't improve. One of them is UConn, which didn't get serious about improving its graduation rates until being hit with a postseason ban for next year that the university is currently appealing.

Still, the graduation numbers for both black and white players are 15 points higher than when Lapchick first started charting graduation rates a decade ago. There has been progress, even if the NCAA graduation standards can still be circumvented in various ways. Kentucky, for instance, remains in good standing on the academic performance watch even if just two of the eight freshmen and sophomores on John Calipari's team three years ago are still on the roster.

By next year, teams must graduate 50 percent of their players to be eligible for postseason play. Coaches may argue otherwise, but that's not an unreasonable standard, especially when you consider the tutors and other academic help given to athletes.

The great thing about the NCAA tournament is that everyone has a chance to succeed.

We should ask for no less when it comes to players getting their degrees.

 

1
Text Only
Sports Columnists
  • COLUMN: McDermott gets last shot to leave mark on the game

    You never know when a great basketball story is going to peak, so keep an eye out for Doug McDermott. If college basketball's power brokers get their way, you'll be seeing plenty of him over the next few weeks.

    March 18, 2014

  • COLUMN: Michael Sam bravely comes out. Now what?

    Michael Sam could've taken the - well, not the easy, but certainly the easier - way out by staying mum on his sexual orientation, at least until after the NFL draft.
    Instead, one of the nation's top college football players bravely decided to speak now, to tell the world he is gay at a time when NFL teams are grading the guys they'll be picking in a couple of months.

    February 10, 2014

  • COLUMN: Sherman wins the games, then loses his mind

    The bookies in Vegas reported a rare split picking the early favorite for the Super Bowl. At least there's no question about who's going to steal the show.
    That would be Seattle's supremely confident Richard Sherman, who's already staked a claim to being the NFL's most quotable cornerback since Deion Sanders. Fresh off making the game-saving play in the last minute of Sunday's NFC championship, Sherman gave America a taste of how juicy things could get over the next two weeks if his coach, Pete Carroll, doesn't clamp the equivalent of a ''Denver boot'' on the mouth of his All-Pro first.

    January 20, 2014

  • COLUMN: Petrino says he's changed; yeah, right

    Bobby Petrino insists he's a changed man.
    Not the scoundrel who secretly interviewed for someone else's coaching job without telling his bosses, who abandoned the Atlanta Falcons with three games left in the season, who wrecked his motorcycle with his mistress aboard and lied about the sordid affair as long as he could.
    We're supposed to believe he's not that guy anymore.
    Yeah, right.

    January 11, 2014

  • COLUMN: A nation grieves and the NFL plays on

    Americans grieved in front of their television sets on a brutally grim Sunday afternoon 50 years ago as a horse-drawn caisson took the body of President Kennedy from the White House to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda.

    November 24, 2013

  • COLUMN: Fitting ending in cards for final BCS

    The Bowl Championship Series is in its death throes, and few are mourning its passing.
    Come next season, the path to the national championship will go through two playoff games, and a blue ribbon panel will pick the lucky participants. It's hardly a perfect system because invariably some worthy school will get left out, but it is a major step toward deciding the title mostly on the field instead of inside somebody's basement computer.

    November 6, 2013

  • COLUMN: Hard to imagine another chance for Tebow

    There was never any real reason to dislike Tim Tebow, who never pretended to be anything he wasn't. Blame him for the Tebowing craze, if you will, but even that was worth a few laughs in a league that doesn't always embrace fun.

    September 2, 2013

  • COLUMN: Time for baseball to really clean up act

    Of all those penalized in baseball's biggest doping scandal, at least Nelson Cruz had a good story to tell.
    No, his drink wasn't spiked with testosterone in a bar one night by a Texas Rangers fan desperate for a World Series win. That would be a bit hard to believe now, wouldn't it?

    August 6, 2013

  • COLUMN: Bruins stir OKC hockey memories

    Seeing the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals brings back some childhood memories going back to the days of the original Oklahoma City Blazers, who were a Bruins farm club from 1965-72.

    June 22, 2013

  • COLUMN: Perfect ending to OU's championship run

    Really, that’s about right.

    On the day Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso saves the nation’s best pitcher for a possible winner-take-all national championship game, the nation’s best pitcher’s back-up tosses a shutout and the nation’s best pitcher rips a three-run home run and drives in all four Sooner runs.

    June 5, 2013

Poll

Severe storm season is beginning. Do you have a storm readiness plan at home?

Yes
No
     View Results
Featured Ads
AP Video
Raw: Fire Engulfs Tower Block in China Ocean Drones Making Waves in Research World Breakfast Foods Are Getting Pricier Raw: Ferry Captain Received Medical Treatment Hundreds Gather for Denver Pot Rally on Easter Transcript Reveals Confusion in Ferry Evacuation Raw: More Than 100,000 Gather for Easter Sunday Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria