01/08/2014 10:43 am ET Updated Mar 10, 2014

The Brain Bowl: Academics and Athletics

The Dec. 28th Pinstripe Bowl between 8-4, 25th ranked Notre Dame and 6-6, unranked Rutgers hardly compares with the marquis BCS matchups the following week. But according to a recently released report by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, dubbed the "Brain Bowl," is the only bowl game that matches two teams with graduation rates over 85 percent (Notre Dame has a 94 percent and Rutgers an 85 percent rate). Moreover, Notre Dame at 98 percent and Rutgers at 85 percent top the bowl team average African American graduation rate of 65 percent. Richard Lapchick the Director of TIDES and the author of the report noted that the average graduation rate of 72 percent for this year's bowl teams marks is a three percent increase over the previous year's rate and continues an upward trend among both white and African American players in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools.

Notre Dame, Rutgers, and other FBS schools with high graduation success rates deserve recognition for the considerable academic support services they provide for their student athletes. On the average, according to the NCAA, African American and white football players graduate at higher rates than male non-athletes. Among non-athletes, only 45 percent of African American males graduate compared to 67 percent of white males. African Americans have a 20 percent better chance of graduating from college if they are playing football, a demonstration of the benefits of a scholarship and of the extra services provided for student athletes. On the other hand, the 20 percent graduation gap between African American and while students persists, even with additional services for athletes, except at exceptional places, like Notre Dame and Rutgers.

The graduation gap reflects what used to be a racial gap but, which has now become an income gap reflecting the high incidence of poverty among African Americans and growing inequality. Dropout rates of 16 to 24-year old students are seven times higher for low income than high income students. Unfortunately, we appear to have a greater commitment to graduating football players from college than to providing poor children with a solid pre-school through high school education. Although FBS schools are investing more in their football players, Indiana and New Jersey among other states have reduced their funding for public education. Moreover, the November cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Congress's refusal to extend unemployment benefits have worsened the already dim prospects of poor children in our country.

Whereas we as Americans once took pride in our educational preeminence internationally, we have fallen to 16th place in college degree completion. We have not kept pace internationally because in spite of our national wealth, we have neglected our poor children.

As a nation, we can learn from this year's Pin Stripe Bowl contestants that equalizing educational outcomes is within our reach. Surely guaranteeing all children a fair opportunity to succeed in life is a far nobler goal than guaranteeing football players the opportunity to graduate from college. Let's hope that as we begin this New Year, we will devote ourselves to making all children Brain Bowl eligible.