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Another NCAA bracket: Player graduation rates

Jenna Johnson

Here's yet another factor that might help you fill out your NCAA bracket: Athlete graduation rates for the 65 teams headed to the basketball tournament.

Each year the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida releases a study examining the graduation rates of basketball players. This year the overall graduation rate for players is 64 percent, slightly up from last year.

Of the 65 tournament teams, 44 graduated at least half of their basketball student-athletes and 29 teams graduated at least 70 percent.

The institute picked its Top Ten for Graduation Success Rates (all of these schools had graduation rates over 90 percent): BYU, Marquette, Notre Dame, Utah State, Wake Forest, Wofford, Duke, Lehigh, Vermont and Villanova.

Among the No. 1 seeds, Duke has a 92 percent graduation success rate, followed by Kansas (73 percent), Syracuse (55 percent) and Kentucky (31 percent).

A dozen teams graduated less than 40 percent of their players. At the bottom of the list is the University of Maryland, which only graduated 8 percent of its student players. The next lowest was California with a 20 percent graduation rate.

The institute used NCAA statistics and studied how many athletes who started college between 1999 and 2002 had graduated within six years. It did not include data from 2008-09.

Terrapins Coach Gary Williams told The Washington Post in a phone interview Monday that the statistics are not significant:

Obviously, those years we had players leave early and they're millionaires now, and they're coming back to get their degrees, just like other guys have come back and gotten their degrees.
Plus we've graduated, let's see, I think it's 10 out of 12 and most recently of our seniors, we'll graduate all four of our seniors this year. Our academic support system has completely changed since 1999-2003. That is ancient facts, and you know it.
See, you'll never put in there that our four seniors will graduate this year or that we've graduated 10 out of our last 12 players. That's my quote. And our academic support system is completely different than it was '99 to 2003. You're talking about eight years ago, seven years ago where things were different.
Plus, we had teams in 2001 and 2002 that won national championships. Terrence Morris left early as a first-round draft choice. . . Steve Blake, you know what he's doing. He's playing for a lot of money. Juan Dixon has made a lot of money during his career, and they both hopefully will come back and get their degrees. Chris Wilcox is a lottery pick, left after his sophomore year. Drew Nicholas did not graduate, but he's had a very successful year, still playing and making a lot of money.

The study also compares graduation rates for white and African American players. This year's study found about 84 percent of white and 56 percent of African American Division I players graduated.

For the tournament teams, 45 teams graduated more than 70 percent of their white players, while only 20 teams graduated more than 70 percent of African American players -- creating a 48 percent gap, a significant increase from last year's study which found a 26 percent gap.

"One of higher education's greatest failures is the persistent gap between African‐American and white students in general," said Richard Lapchick, the primary author of the study, in a statement. "This is also true for white and African‐American basketball student‐athletes in particular. The gaps continue to widen, even though the actual graduation rates of African‐American basketball student‐athletes are increasing."

By Jenna Johnson  |  March 16, 2010; 9:50 AM ET
Categories:  News Overload  | Tags: NCAA, University of Central Florida, University of Maryland  
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"One of higher education's greatest failures is the persistent gap between African‐American and white students in general," said Richard Lapchick, the primary author of the study, in a statement. "This is also true for white and African‐American basketball student‐athletes in particular. The gaps continue to widen, even though the actual graduation rates of African‐American basketball student‐athletes are increasing."

is this because less white players have a chance at an nba career and therefore stay in college to get their degrees? how many african american students that stayed 4 years ALSO went on to the nba? how many african american students accepting basketball scholarships were going to school for an education or just letting the schools showcase their talents so they can leave early and pursue their real career choice pro ball? or more even interesting what are the factors that contribute to higher white graduation rates and lower ones for african americans?

nice study but i'd like more information.

Posted by: mfslavin | March 16, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

I'm a Terps fan, but seriously . . . why does Gary Williams fly of the handle anytime anybody questions him about ANYTHING. I don't care when it was . . . an 8 percent graduation rate is dispicable. It's fine to make your case that you've changed the system and more players are graduating, but the facts are the facts. I'm really surprised to find out the Juan Dixon and Steve Blake didn't even graduate . . . considering Juan came back for his senior year.

Posted by: JB44 | March 16, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Players like Blake and Dixon, while they came back for the senior year, withdrew from school early (after b-ball season) to prepare for the draft. That's why they didn't graduate.

Gary's pretty defensive of these statistics just because MD has been at the bottom since the NCAA started really emphasizing them early 2000's. Starting next year the graduation rates of those players who entered school in 2003 must increase over previous years. The NCAA can impose sanctions (i.e. loss of scholarships) if a school is not up to par. There is just a lag between when a student enters school, leaves schools and when they finally get accounted for in these numbers. Graduating all 4 seniors this year won't show up in the numbers for several more years.

Posted by: jcaruana | March 16, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

create the bracket and display it would make this article mean something

Posted by: Obama_TRAITOR_in_Chief | March 16, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Well, like some institutions of higher learning, UMD could just award degrees & not worry whether the "students" earn them. These numbers really don't mean a whole lot when you have persistent academic fraud at some schools. Also, players that come back to earn degrees after the defined window do not count. Rate would probably increase if players were allowed to finish their degrees online. They are not.

Posted by: toddwanker | March 16, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

These numbers are stupid. These kids go to college to get better at playing basketball. PERIOD I have a degree from UMD. If someone would have offered me over a million dollars a year to do my job without a degree, I would have taken it in a second.

Posted by: SSFromNO | March 16, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Do the schools give the kids 6-years of free tuition?

Knowing the majors would also give a much better perspective on this. A general studies major versus a biology major not graduating is a big difference to me.

8% is bad no matter how you slice it, but if you can show the 92% that did not finish are making good livings playing basketball, i think you have to give a coach that too.

not to knock Duke but they showed on 20/20 or some other show how the Duke hoop team all major in sociology and it's a cake walk for athletes.

Posted by: oknow1 | March 16, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics has worked over the past two decades to promote policy changes necessary to better align big-time college sports with the mission of higher education. The Commission’s 2001 proposal that teams achieve at least a 50 percent graduation rate to be eligible for postseason competition led to current policies that hold institutions accountable for their players’ graduation rates and provide transparency for those rates. Teams that fail to meet prescribed benchmarks are penalized. The benchmarks are not as high as those advocated by the Commission, and we will continue to urge policymakers to raise them to achieve the desired result. Learn more at

Posted by: NewsReax | March 16, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

"create the bracket and display it would make this article mean something"

Notwithstanding our apparent political differences, I agree with this. So, being a liberal, I did it myself.

Here's how the tournament runs, scored on overall player graduation rates. Ties on player graduation rates are marked as (OT) and go to the higher seed, or in a double tie (2OT), which does happen once, performance in the conference tournament. Cornell didn't report a number, so I gave them a 99. (They're an Ivy, but they really should report.)

ROUND 1: Lehigh def. Kansas, N. Iowa def. UNLV, Michigan State def. NMSU, Houston def. Maryland, SDSU def. Tennessee, Ohio def. Georgetown, Oklahoma State def. Georgia Tech, UCSB def. Ohio State, Vermont def. Syracuse, Florida State def. Gonzaga, Butler def. UTEP, Vanderbilt def. Murray State, Xavier def. Minnesota, Oakland def. Pitt, BYU def. Florida, Kansas State def. North Texas, ETSU def. Kentucky, Wake Forest def. Texas, Cornell def. Temple, Wofford def. Wake Forest, Marquette def. Washington, Montana def. New Mexico, Clemson def. Missouri, West Virginia def. Morgan State, Duke def. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, California def. Louisville, Utah State def. Texas A&M, Siena def. Purdue, Notre Dame def. Old Dominion, Sam Houston def. Baylor, Richmond def. St. Mary's, Villanova def. Robert Morris

ROUND 2: Lehigh def. Northern Iowa, Michigan State def. Houston, Ohio def. SDSU, Oklahoma State def. UCSB (OT), Vermont def. Florida State, Butler def. Vanderbilt, Xavier def. Oakland, BYU def. Kansas State, Wake Forest def. ETSU, Wofford def. Cornell, Marquette def. Montana, West Virginia def. Clemson, Duke def. Louisville, Utah State def. Siena, Notre Dame def. Sam Houston, Villanova def. Richmond

SWEET 16: Lehigh def. Michigan State, Ohio def. Oklahoma State, Vermont def. Butler, BYU def. Xavier, Wake Forest def. Wofford (OT), Marquette def. West Virginia, Utah State def. Duke, Notre Dame def. Villanova

ELITE 8: Lehigh def. Ohio, BYU def. Vermont (OT), Marquette def. Wake Forest (OT), Notre Dame def. Utah State

FINAL FOUR: BYU def. Lehigh (OT), Notre Dame def. Marquette (2OT)

CHAMPION: Notre Dame def. BYU (OT)

Posted by: otherquaker | March 16, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

It dishonest and childish to not consider players who make the NBA as having had a successful college career. If player goes pro at any level where they make 150% or more (usually lots more, but I am counting minor league like teams) than they would have gotten with a degree, then they are hardly failures.
I think the Maryland Coach has a good argument, count the pros, and those that finish college after playing as well, since playing college ball has to help you in life at least as much as co-oping, I think the WP should do a new report that really tells the whole story.

Sadly, while playing on a top seed may make it likely you go pro at some level, or at least get some kind of boast in life, most college team will have no players who go pro at any level, and still have bad graduation rates. Strangely, lots of Women's B-ball teams have great graduation rates.

Posted by: Muddy_Buddy_2000 | March 16, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

One major factor is finishing college is the amount of money for the little extras a student has. If a student can not even eat when the school cafes are closed, or afford a date, its much harder to finish. This may affect graduation rates, as does the need to support family members now, not in 2 more years.

What colleges should do and be required to do is to provide scholarships for student athletes to finish school after playing, in a reasonable amount of additional time after they can no longer play. Big time sport take up so much time, another year or two would be reasonable, and the student could work part time after playing. If a school can not afford this, then they should drop any sport that keeps their students from graduating.

Posted by: Muddy_Buddy_2000 | March 16, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Percentage of white players = higher graduation rate.

Stop dancing around the obvious, this is a fact.

Posted by: petedist | March 16, 2010 9:41 PM | Report abuse

Colleges can have high graduation rates and win games. Last year, UNC won the national championship AND had the best graduation rate of all the teams in the tournament. Of course this year is a whole other story.....

Posted by: manning1 | March 18, 2010 7:44 AM | Report abuse

OK Gary you've "explained" what happened with 5 players but by my math that does equal 8 percent. Unless all but one kid went pro and is making millions, 8 percent is atrocious by any measure.

Posted by: learnedhand1 | March 18, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

meant to say "does not equal 8 percent"

Posted by: learnedhand1 | March 18, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

Only a small percentage of college basketball players--even at the elite level- go to the NBA much less earn really big bucks. Face it, these elite teams are really a farm system for the NBA and is the case with Major League Baseball players who go to the minors very few make it big. The rest wish they had finished college.

Posted by: tealbird | March 18, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

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