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Graduation Rates Far From Sweet

Author of report says it reveals "a nightmare waiting to be fixed," but some say there are mitigating factors.

March 27, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

A report of graduation rates for teams in the NCAA men's basketball tournament released this week revealed a series of stunning academic failures.

Only six of the remaining Sweet 16 schools graduated more than 50% of their players. Of the 65 teams that qualified for the tournament, 13 have not graduated a black player in six years, including Oklahoma, seeded first in the East, and Syracuse. The most woeful graduation figures belong to Oklahoma (0%), defending national champion Maryland (14%) and Arizona (15%), the West Regional's top-seeded team.

Dr. Richard Lapchick, author of the report studying freshman classes from 1992 through 1995 and director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, said the figures are "a nightmare waiting to be fixed."

The potential for improvement already exists, Lapchick wrote, pointing to the strong graduation rates of the other teams joining Arizona in today's West Regional at the Arrowhead Pond: Notre Dame (75%), Duke (73%) and Kansas (70%).

Lapchick encouraged the NCAA to continue its push for an academic reform policy that aims to deprive poorly performing teams of scholarships and postseason competition and award the athletic departments of those teams that do well in the classroom with additional revenue.

"We promise all student-athletes who enter our universities that we will give them an education and help them earn a college degree," Lapchick said. "This study shows that, once again, too many universities do not fulfill their promises, especially to African American student-athletes who play basketball."

The study, relying on data provided by the NCAA, confirmed why the organization is moving so swiftly to install academic standards with more teeth, said Kevin Lennon, the NCAA's vice president of membership services.

"This speaks to the need for our continued efforts to move academic reform forward, and it underscores the need to both expect more of students in college and continue to hold our institutions accountable," Lennon said.

But Arizona Coach Lute Olson and Richard Bartsch, the university's associate athletic director, argue the study is loaded with flawed measurements.

Among the subjects Olson, Bartsch and several other administrators and coaches take issue with:

* The study does not account for those students who transfer from one institution in good academic standing and graduate at the other school.

* Junior college athletes who graduate from the four-year school are not counted.

* Standout players who leave school in good academic standing to pursue a possible million-dollar contract in the NBA are not counted, even if they return years later to finish their degree.

"You take a look at 2001 for us, it's a good example of why adjustments need to be made," Olson said. "Loren Woods got his degree, but doesn't count for us, but counts against Wake Forest. Quynn Tebbs counts against us, but doesn't count for Weber State. So many things need to be reassessed.

Woods transferred in from Wake Forest, Tebbs transferred to Weber State and both graduated from their second school. After a trip to the championship game in 2001, Olson also watched Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson and Michael Wright leave early for the NBA in good academic standing.

"What can you do?" Olson asked.

Lennon, one of the NCAA's leading authorities in the academic reform movement being strongly urged by first-year NCAA President Myles Brand, conceded, "The way the federal government calculates graduation rates underestimates the value of academic success at several universities."

Thus, as the NCAA ponders how to remedy the problem by establishing a policy that will award and punish teams based on how they meet academic standards, the questions of what those standards will be, and how they will be measured, have yet to be answered.

Lennon said the NCAA will avoid the lag time involved in a report like Lapchick's.

"There are legitimate concerns with relying on reports that old," Lennon said. "Coaches, in some cases, will say, 'I wasn't even at the school when this happened.' How we want to do it is on a sport-by-sport, team-by-team basis, looking more at real-time academic numbers."

Lennon said the NCAA is currently analyzing 20,000 student-athlete academic records.

The NCAA's measuring system, which is expected to account for flexible standards based on an institution's overall academic success, is called the annual academic progress rate.

The NCAA's Division I working group on incentives and disincentives, which will meet during the Final Four next week in New Orleans, is expected to recommend a three-year study of teams' academic success.

"Once you've measured their academic success, then you can determine the cut points, where incentives and disincentives would kick in," Lennon said.

The NCAA is targeting a full incentive/disincentive policy, including postseason bans, to be in place by the 2006-07 school year.

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