Well, March Madness is over and tonight Michigan State and North Carolina face off in the men’s college basketball championship. Every year around this time, there’s a disturbing report or two highlighting the low graduation rates of African American college athletes, particularly in the NCAA basketball programs. This year, a study by the Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports exposes some of the sad facts: While they excel on the court, most black players in elite college basketball programs leave college without a diploma. And it’s not just because they’re skipping out early for lucrative NBA careers. In “Got Game, But No Diploma,” a story featured today at The Root.com, once again hits us with a sobering dose of reality. Some excerpts:
If the championship in NCAA men’s basketball was based on the graduation rates of black players on the teams, it would be Duke and Villanova taking the court tonight in Detroit rather than Michigan State and the University of North Carolina….
In general, white male student athletes graduate at 80 percent versus only 58 percent of their black teammates. That disparity represents a slight improvement over last year’s numbers which showed a 24 percent gap….
None of the teams that made it to the Sweet 16 this year can boast a 100 percent graduation rate for its black players. Two colleges—Arizona and Gonzaga—didn’t graduate any black players at all. Arizona, Duke, Michigan State, Missouri, UNC, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh and Xavier graduated all of their white players….
Some critics say that teams with especially poor graduation rates—like UConn with an overall graduation rate of 33 percent and Arizona with an overall rate of 20 percent—should not be eligible for the championship tournament….
Michigan State had the greatest disparity in graduation rates among those Sweet 16 teams. All of its white players graduated; but only 43 percent of the black players got a diploma….
Boyce Watkins, a professor at Syracuse University, sees the NCAA graduation numbers as just another tragic chapter in the lives of poor, black young men. “It’s like they back the bus up to the black neighborhoods, load up all the good players, then spit them out in a couple of years when they are done,” Watkins said. And when that happens, they often return to the poverty and distressed social conditions they left behind….
Debates about the treatment of African American student athletes in the big-time business of college sports will certainly continue (Should they be paid? Should they be required to stay in school longer before jumping to the NBA? Should there be greater attention paid to their academic eligibility?). But with literally billions of dollars at stake for the colleges, sponsors, TV networks, etc., I don’t anticipate anything changing soon. Still, as we’re watching those players run the court tonight in one of the biggest moneymaking sporting events of the year, I think it’s important to be mindful of these issues. Ultimately, those players are responsible for their own choices regarding their education and future success, but how complicit are we as consumers (and citizens) in enabling a system that may be doing more harm than good to the lives of these young athletes? And what, if anything, can we do to change it?