College Football's Graduation Gap

When most football fans tune into the college bowl games over the next few weeks, most will be concerned about which teams score the most points.

A study released Monday focuses attention on team statistics of a different sort: A racial breakdown of the rate at which the members of their team rosters earn a degree.

The study—titled Keeping Score When It Counts: Assessing the 2010-11 Bowl-bound College Football Teams – Academic Performance Improves but Race Still Matters—was conducted by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida. It found what the study’s authors described as a “disturbing” and growing gap in the graduation rate between Black and White football players at the vast majority of universities in the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-A schools.

Specifically, the study found that, of the 70 bowl-bound teams this year, the graduation success rate (GSR) for African-American football student athletes is 60 percent while the rate for White football student athletes was 80 percent. While both the African-American and White GSR increased over last year’s rates of 58 and 77 percent, respectively, the gap between the two also grew from 19 to 20 percentage points.

Dr. Richard Lapchick, director of TIDES and principal author of the study, said the problem emanates from educational disparities that occur early in a student’s academic career and therefore must be remedied long before the student attracts the attention of recruiters.

” I think that the only long-term solution is not going to take place on college campuses,” Lapchick said. “It’s going to take place in K-12 education.”

” Whereas some of the African-American student athletes come from urban areas that are underfunded, don’t have the best teachers, and technology is not the best, until that type of reform takes place, it’s going to be difficult to close the gap,” he added.

But Lapchick said the solutions to the problem don’t rest solely in the realm of K-12 education. He credited a 2004 academic reform effort initiated by the National Collegiate Athletic Association that he said has led many colleges to recruit student athletes who actually have a chance to graduate, whereas before, colleges could “cut corners.”

“Now, they have a prospect of losing scholarships,” Lapchick said of the NCAA reform effort, which created the Academic Progress Rate, or APR, which holds each team accountable for the success of student-athletes in the classroom and in their progress toward graduation.

Individual teams suffer penalties if they fall below an APR score of 925, which translates to an expected graduation rate of 50 percent of its student athletes. Up to 10 percent of a school’s scholarships can be taken away for failing to meet the APR standard.

This year, the study said, only Florida International is the only bowl-bound team with an APR below 925, but it is not subject to penalties by the NCAA.

Other findings of Lapchick’s study:

  • Sixty-three schools (90 percent) had graduation success rates of 66 percent or higher for White football student-athletes, which was more than 2.7 times the number of schools with the same GSR for African-American football student-athletes (23 schools or 33 percent).
  • Seventeen schools (24 percent) graduated less than 50 percent of their African-American football student-athletes, while only one school—Oklahoma—graduated less than 50 percent of its White football student-athletes.
  • Five schools (7 percent) graduated less than 40 percent of their African-American football student-athletes, but no school graduated less than 40 percent of its White football student-athletes.

The study also found that 15 schools (21 percent) had graduation success rates for African-American football student-athletes that were at least 30 percentage points lower than their rates for White football student-athletes, and that 35 schools (50 percent) had graduation success rates for African-American football student-athletes that were at least 20 percentage points lower than their rates for White football student-athletes.

Five schools bucked the trend with a GSR for African-American football student-athletes that surpassed their GSR for White football student-athletes: Northwestern (one percentage point higher), Virginia Tech (three percentage points higher), Southern Mississippi (three percentage points higher), Notre Dame (four percentage points higher) and Troy (10 percentage points higher). That is up from four schools that bucked the trend last year, the study states.

Source: Diverse: Issues In Higher Education, a CMA publication, Graduation Gap Between Black and White College Football Players Said To Be Growing, by Jamaal Abdul-Alim , December 7, 2010