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June 20, 2019

Graduation madness: What college athletic programs are doing right, and wrong

March 19, 2019
Zion Williamson to Duke: Thank U, NBA next (Chuck Burton / AP)

With the NCAA basketball tourney kicking off this week, flooding colleges with cash, eyes turn to the perennial question of how well big-time programs educate the kids who wear their jerseys. The surprising answer, delivered Monday by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida is: not so badly, with recent signs of real improvement.

In the first TIDES study in 2006, barely 58% of male student-athletes at tournament schools graduated. That number is now 81%. The graduation gap between black and white students has shrunk to 15 points, the lowest ever.

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We do not here claim that all those who graduate truly earn their diplomas. But if eight out of 10 get a degree, some not-insignificant number are using their athletic scholarships to get actual college educations.

Meanwhile, the overall graduation rate for black male students at these schools is abysmal, just 41%. The financial burden of college, paired with elementary and secondary schools that inadequately prepare too many young people, and college cultures oriented toward the wealthy, are to blame for that.

There are many legitimate criticisms of college sports, especially of the March Madness variety. Student-athletes generate billions they never see. The NBA’s rule requiring one year of college is a corrupt wink-and-nod to the most talented youngsters: gin up the NCAA’s ratings for a year, then go pro, without ever intending to get an education. And coaches — many at public institutions — rake in millions.

Better ideas: Let pro-ready go right to the NBA. Let college players accept off-the-court endorsements. And cap coaches’ salaries, expanding academic scholarships for poorer non-athlete students.

Madness? How about integrity.

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