March Madness

As a former recreational basketball player and coach, I always go a little mad at this time of year. That's because the NCAA men's basketball tournament takes place every March, and for old hoopsters like me, it's the equivalent of the Super Bowl, World Series and Mardi Gras all rolled into one. In fact, I often get a little too carried away -- like this year, when I'll be travelling hundreds of miles to Pittsburgh, PA, to watch eight teams that I don't have a degree from or an association with play six games in two days to determine who among them will be going on to the "Sweet 16." That's taking March Madness to a whole 'nother level!

There's another side to the annual frenzy that gets me mad as well. It's the annual study by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) that's released to coincide with the NCAA Tournament. Since almost all of the 68 teams in the NCAA field are blessed with an abundance of talented African-American athletes, TIDES strategically uses the tourney as the opportunity to present its data. And the data is often an indictment of what many colleges and universities are NOT doing to graduate their athletes, in particular their athletes of color.

Entitled "Keeping Score When It Counts: Graduation Success and Academic Progress Rates for the 2012 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament Teams," the TIDES study examines the graduation success rates and academic progress rates for tournament teams as reported by the NCAA. The study also compares the graduation rate data of white and African-American male basketball student-athletes. As with previous years, the 2012 TIDES study includes a hodgepodge of good, bad and ugly news to report.

The good news, as reported by Dr. Richard Lapchick, the primary author of the study, is that "there was a slight improvement in the graduation rates for African-American athletes in 2012" (up from 59% to 60%). He also points out that "the enormous gap between the graduation rates of white and African- American student-athletes narrowed by almost four percent."

On the negative side, Lapchick notes that there continues to be a "large disparity between the graduate rates of white basketball student-athletes (88 percent) and African-American basketball student-athletes" that, even with the four percent improvement, "remains an embarrassing 28 percent."

And, finally, on the ugly side of things, Lapchick asserts out that the primary reason for most of the change in disparity was "the decrease in the graduation rates of white student-athletes. "

The Institute's annual study is the most comprehensive analysis of the academic performance of student-athletes on teams participating in the 2012 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament. The question remains -- and it's the one that gets me mad every March: why aren't we seeing to it that more of our student athletes graduate? That they all graduate?

We shouldn't overlook this reality as we cheer on our favorite team or root for this year's tournament Cinderella. In most instances, we'll be able to observe predominantly white fans cheering for teams that are predominately African-American. So when the cheering stops and the games are over and everyone -- fans, coaches and players alike -- head back home, let's commit ourselves to helping improve those graduation numbers for all our student athletes. We need them to not just fill our stadiums and field houses, we need them to fill our boardrooms, businesses and capitols.