Women's NCAA tourney teams top men in grad rates

KYLE HIGHTOWER Associated Press Published:

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Players from teams competing in this year's women's NCAA tournament graduate at higher rate than those in the men's tournament, and also have a smaller disparity between white and African-American players, a study released on Wednesday shows.

The annual report by the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport revealed players from the women's teams graduated at an overall rate of 89 percent, compared with 67 percent for the men.

The women also have only an 8 percentage point disparity between white and African-American players. It is 28 percent on the men's side. Also, 98 percent of the women's teams, compared to 60 percent of men's teams, graduated at least 60 percent of their players.

Wednesday's report was a follow-up to the study TIDES released on the men's tourney on Monday.

While the women have regularly fared better than their male counterparts in this report, TIDES director Richard Lapchick said the women's perennially high numbers and improvement by the men provides an opportunity for the NCAA to set higher standards across the board in the future.

"I think the 50 percent bar is low and I think it can easily go to 55 or 60 percent as the standard," Lapchick said. "I think that is something that will really help universities to drive more resources to academic studies and life skills budgets ... two areas credited with making athletes as developed as they possibly can be."

Information was collected by the NCAA from member institutions for the study. The institute reviewed the six-year graduation rates of each school's freshman class, or Graduation Success Rates, then calculated a four-class average or Academic Progress Rate.

The NCAA created the APR in 2004 to improve graduation rates, disciplining schools in the form of lost scholarships when they don't meet the NCAA standard for academic performance. Under the previous NCAA structure, teams that score below 925 lose could up to 10 percent of their scholarships.

Only three of this year's women's NCAA tourney teams have an APR below 925. The men's field has eight.

Before last year's tournaments U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, NAACP president Ben Jealous and Lapchick called for the NCAA to ban basketball teams with graduation rates below 40 percent from the tournament. The college sports governing body responded in October by adopting a new APR standard across Division I of 930, equal to a 50 percent graduation rate.

It includes a provision that bans all teams below that from participating in the postseason, including all NCAA tournaments and football bowl games for the following year if they don't have a two-year average score of 930 or a four-year average of 900 on the annual APR.

Teams that receive three straight years of historical penalties (below 900 APR or 45 percent GSR) will face potential scholarship and practice restrictions as well.

Duncan said there was tremendous skepticism that NCAA would raise the bar and that he applauds NCAA for its "moral leadership and driving much needed change with a sense of urgency."

But the "big fan" of college basketball, and a former captain of Harvard's team, said he feels that APR standard can go up in the future. Duncan said that President Barack Obama is also on board with the push.

"We're just asking for a healthy balance and to let them be students first and not used to make a lot of money (for the universities) and then leave without a diploma ... that doesn't make sense," Duncan said on a conference call. "That somehow we tolerated it this long has been unacceptable."

With high-profile programs, such as defending NCAA men's champion Connecticut, facing a possible exclusion from next year's tournament because of low graduation numbers, Lapchick said he thinks all schools are taking notice now.

"I think when individual universities see there are consequences when a university doesn't live up to standards set for college sport it gets everybody attention," he said. "There was a time when big programs got a pass, but it's not gonna happen next year and going forward.

"It's also notice to any school that if you're considering doing something not strictly by the book will certainly have to have pause and reconsider that."