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NCAA basketball teams called out by education chief

House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants better academic performance from NCAA basketball teams.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says NCAA basketball teams that are not on track to graduate at least half of their players should not be allowed to compete in the NCAA Tournament.

Duncan used to play basketball himself. He says his personal experience is what is driving his call for the measures.

Duncan wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post:

As a kid on the South Side of Chicago who loved basketball, I got to see the best and the worst of college sports. I spent time on the court with inner-city players who had been used and dumped by their universities. When the ball stopped bouncing, they struggled to find work and had difficult lives. Some died early. The dividing line for success was between those who went to college and got their degrees, and those who did not. If a team fails to graduate even half of its players, how serious are the institution and coach about preparing their student-athletes for life?

Duncan wrote that 10 men's teams in the NCAA basketball tournament are not on track to graduate more than half their players. Duncan told USA Today:

"The math on this is not complicated," Duncan said. "If you can't graduate one in two of your student-athletes, I just question the institutional commitment to academics. And I think if the NCAA were to draw a line in the sand, you'd see this behavior change very rapidly."

When graduation rates are looked at by race, the differences are stark. Duncan singled out the Kansas State program writing, "at Kansas State in recent years, 100 percent of white players graduated, but just 14 percent of black players did."

The Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida studies graduation rates among NCAA athletes. In their latest study, they wrote that graduation rates overall are improving for NCAA Division 1 men's basketball teams.

But the disparities in graduation rates by race are growing:

The staggering gap between the graduation rates of African-American and white student-athletes grew by four percentage points to an even more unacceptable 32 percent. This was the third successive year that the gap grew from 22 percent in 2009 to 28 percent in 2010 to the current 32 percent.

In the USA Today article, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said Duncan's idea was "completely nuts."

Syracuse is one of the teams with a current graduation rate below 50%, but Boeheim says when the data is updated this spring, that rate will go above 50%.

Boeheim says the current system works:

"The...system gives you an opportunity to get back where you belong, like we did," Boeheim said. "If you are consistently below, then the system is in place to put you out of the tournament."

There are postseason sanctions for teams that consistently have poor academic records.

Of the three teams from Michigan that made it into the NCAA tournament (Michigan State University, Oakland University, and the University of Michigan), all would meet Duncan's criteria.

Michigan State University is listed as having the best "academic progress record" of the three.



Mark Brush was Michigan Radio’s Digital Media Director. He succumbed to a year-long battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in March 2018. He was 49 years old.
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