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NCAAs still about dollars, not degrees

  • Article by: MYRON P. MEDCALF
  • Star Tribune
  • February 25, 2011 - 3:51 AM

I'm tempted to call for the indefinite suspension of the 2010-11 NCAA tournament.

The conglomerate that promotes itself as a body emphasizing academics and athletics has failed. And it's not alone.

College basketball coaches, charged with winning on the court and in the classroom, should refuse their checks. And their players don't deserve fancy nonconference trips to the Caribbean at this rate. Athletic directors and school presidents should grovel.

The source of this frustration?

High-level college basketball is nothing short of professional athletics. But unlike the next level, there's not always a mutual benefit. The universities make millions but some of their most marketable athletes don't get their degrees.

Last spring, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports released a study based on the 2010 NCAA tourney that spoke to the achievement gap between black male basketball players and their white counterparts.

"White male basketball student-athletes on tournament bound teams graduate at a rate of 84 percent versus only 56 percent of African-American male basketball student-athletes," the study said. According to the study, 12 NCAA tourney teams graduated less than 40 percent of their black players -- 43 percent at the University of Minnesota.

The NCAA signed a $10.8 billion deal with CBS and Turner Sports, which will televise this year's NCAA tournament.

In a few weeks, the country will go bonkers for basketball. But while the hoopla surrounds the world's greatest sporting event, a disgraceful academic disparity will persist.

Perhaps the NCAA will use some of its new TV booty to live up to one of its stated core values: "The pursuit of excellence in both academics and athletics."

Without a more aggressive response to the academic struggles of black male basketball players, who make up 61 percent of all Division I basketball players, what will separate NCAA men's basketball from the NBA?

Last October, the NCAA released its latest Graduation Success Rate, based on athletes who entered school from 2000 through 2003. According to the report, black men's basketball players experienced a gain -- up to a 60 percent graduation rate -- compared to past years.

Only 46 percent of black male basketball players who entered school from 1995 through 1998 graduated within six years, according to the first GSR report in 2005.

The strides are a good sign, but they're not sufficient.

This multibillion-dollar engine known as major college basketball needs all parties to address the academic issues affecting black men's basketball players. Coaches, administrators, NCAA officials, athletes ... they're all culpable in one of the sport's greatest crisis.

It's also up to the athletes to get serious about academics.

They're not typical students. Many schools have tutors who travel with their teams along with other academic resources. There are study centers that are only accessible to athletes.

And many of them won't don a cap and gown in the coming years. That's nonsense.

"I'm surprised a little bit," said Ashton Gibbs, a Big East academic all-star who's averaging 16.7 points per game for Pitt, about the graduation rates of black men's basketball players. "A lot of guys are entering the draft, a lot of guys are just not graduating. ... It's something they really gotta motivate themselves to do."

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