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There's Nothing Sweet About These Stats

Six of the last 16 basketball teams in tournament had graduation rates below 50%.

March 27, 2004|Fred Droz

The Sweet 16 games of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.'s March Madness tournament were played this week. It is a wonderful time to watch the skills and efforts of college athletes. It really is March Madness because you never know what will happen. Top teams get beaten.

Mostly, it is a time to watch our nation's best young basketball amateurs play to their heart's best.

It is also the best time of the year for me in watching sports. Like millions of other Americans, I immerse myself into this phenomenon. It is college athletics at its best.

But, there is a dirty little secret to all this. Actually, it isn't much of a secret. The graduation rates of NCAA athletes are atrocious.

Check out the graduation rates of the basketball players from the schools going into the Sweet 16. Six of the teams in the men's tournament had rates below 50%.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday April 03, 2004 Home Edition California Part B Page 21 Editorial Pages Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
NCAA tournament -- A Voices article March 27 incorrectly stated that Duke University's men's basketball team had the highest graduation rate (67%) of the "Sweet 16" teams. The University of Kansas has the highest rate (73%).

The high is Duke at 67%. The lowest is Georgia Tech at 27%. (Stanford graduates 100%, but it was eliminated and didn't make the regional finals.)

Here is an even better illustration of the problem. In 2002, Hawaii, McNeese State and Oklahoma graduated zero athletes. Yes, zero, nada, 0%. Yet, these three schools qualified for the first round of 64 finalists.

So what? It's just a bunch of kids who play sports. Well, I think there is a lot of "what" in this issue.

A lot of folks believe that the top college athletes move on to become professional athletes. Unfortunately, the statistics do not bear this out. Basically, fewer than 1% of NCAA athletes become professional athletes each year. Let's cut to the heart of the issue. Of the 64 schools that made the NCAA basketball tournament, only 25 have graduation rates above 50%. That means that 60% of these schools are graduating between 0% and 49% of their athletes.

"So what" raises its ugly head again. Though these schools take in millions of dollars from ticket sales and commissions, the athletes -- the performers, the income generators -- are left with nothing. They don't graduate with a degree. They don't get a contract with a professional athletic team. Their jerseys are not retired.

The NCAA is expected next month to pass regulations that would reward schools with high graduation rates and penalize those with low rates. This is a start. But the issue isn't just about basketball. Check out the graduation rates of schools in the other income-generating sports:

Do we, as viewers and supporters, have any responsibility for any of this? Maybe. Probably.

Fred Droz is president of a management and communications firm in Laguna Beach.

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