Amid the excitement of March Madness comes sobering news: The disparity between Black and White graduation rates in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Male Basketball Tournament teams remains wide.

According to data released this month, the story of the stubborn performance gap among college athletes is spelled out in data detailing graduation success (GSR) and academic progress rates (APR).

Overall, the GSR for White male basketball student-athletes decreased slightly from 90 percent in 2013 to 89 percent in 2014, while the GSR for their African-American counterparts remained stagnant during the same period at 65 percent, creating a 1 percent drop in the achievement gap.

“There is not much good news to report as almost every category examined remained the same or got worse,” said Richard Lapchick, director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida (UCF), which compiles the data, in a statement.

“The most troubling statistic in our study is the continuing large disparity between the GSR of white basketball student-athletes and African-American basketball student-athletes,” Lapchick added. “It is simply not acceptable that in 2014, 38 percent of the men’s teams had a GSR disparity of greater than 30 percent between white student-athletes and African-American student-athletes, and 47 percent had a GSR disparity of greater than 20 percent.

“This year we seemed to be treading water instead of moving ahead,” Lapchick said in a statement.

In an interview with the AFRO, Lapchick, the chief author of the report, said graduation rates for African-American student-athletes have been increasing since 2005 when penalties for subpar academic performance were put in place by the NCAA.

“But the graduation rates for White students have also increased. So the gap between African-Americans and White students remains large,” he said.

Among teams in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, the imbalance is more pronounced. In 2014 there is a 43 percent gap compared to a 27 percent in 2013, according to the data.

There is significantly less disparity between White and African-American female student-athletes – a 5 percent White-Black gap in graduation rates overall and a 13 percent White-Black GSR gap among Sweet 16 teams.

Lapchick argued that racial disparity rates need to be included in teams’ academic progress rate, a metric that includes graduation, retention and other factors. The APR was developed in 2004 by the NCAA to hold teams responsible for the academic performance and retention of their student-athletes. For 2014-15 championships, teams must earn a 930 four-year average APR or a 940 average over the most recent two years to participate in championships.

In 2015-16 and beyond, teams must earn a four-year APR of 930—the equivalent of a 50 percent graduation rate—to compete in post-season play. If schools fail to meet APR standards they can be blocked from participating in tournaments, penalized with decreased scholarships or otherwise.

“The takeaway for me is that the NCAA needs to include in the measure of Academic Progress rates the disparity between African-American and White student-athletes and if there is a significant gap, that should be part of the penalty,” Lapchick told the AFRO. “We think this would be an incentive for schools to work towards narrowing the gap.”


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO