If President Obama kicked teams out of the NCAA tournament for low graduation rates

The discussion over the graduation rates of men’s basketball players on NCAA tournament teams has grown in recent years. One columnist wondered what President Obama might say if he addressed the issue:

“While nine of every 10 white players graduate on the top-32-seeded men’s teams, only five of every 10 black players graduate. As an African American, I am personally outraged that 21 of the 68 men’s teams have black player graduation rates ranging from 44 percent down to zero.

“Thus, beginning today, I will do my bracket with this new stipulation: I will not write in your team if either your team or black player graduation rate is under 50 percent.

“This decision is not an easy one to make for a basketball purist. It leaves out nearly a third of the teams, including prestigious programs that account for 10 of the last 21 titles. It is with regret that I will leave blank spots for Syracuse, Indiana State, Missouri, Southern Cal, Michigan State, Tennessee, Florida, Nevada-Las Vegas, UC-Santa Barbara, Michigan, Morehead State, Kentucky, Georgia, Temple, Connecticut, Alabama-Birmingham, Texas, Washington, Arizona, Kansas State, and Akron…”

If Education Secretary Arne Duncan already made a similar suggestion, why not the President, who is an avid basketball fan and fills out men’s and women’s brackets on TV?

This is a complex issue that the NCAA doesn’t seem to want to talk about. Instead, they would rather run commercials (one example here) saying that “most [college athletes] go pro in something other than sports.” This may be true in many sports but there are racial gaps in a number of schools in both men’s basketball and football (read about troubles at Auburn here), the major revenue-generating sports.

Academic Progress Rates, Auburn, and sociology departments

Even though its football team is set to play for the National Championship next week, Auburn University is in the New York Times today for a more dubious feat: a large drop in their Academic Progress Rate.

Auburn’s drop in the Academic Progress Rate, a four-year assessment of the movement toward graduation for a team’s players, is the third largest in college football since 2006, behind Mississippi’s (to 113 from 18) and Florida State’s (to 105 from 17). Since 2006, both Florida State and Michigan have endured academic scandals, with Michigan’s ranking falling to 84 from 27.

Among all the bowl teams this season, Auburn has the highest disparity in the graduation rates between white players (100 percent) and black players (49 percent), according to a study at the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.

Jim Gundlach, the Auburn sociology professor who uncovered the academic abuse, saw the decline in the team’s ranking as progress. “A genuine consequence to this has been that the people who want to do things right have gotten a bit more grasp over what the university is trying to do,” he said.

Graduation rates for Division 1 football and basketball male athletes is an ongoing issue. But this article brings up another issue: the disparity in graduation rates between white and black athletes. How much concern will this draw amidst all the National Championship hoopla that dominates ESPN every day?

Also, the Auburn sociology department doesn’t look too good in the explanation of how Auburn fell in the rankings:

In 2006, Auburn football was No. 1 among public universities in the academic ranking, alongside private institutions like Duke and Boston College. But some irregularities had caught Gundlach’s attention two years earlier.

He saw on television that an academic football player of the week was an Auburn sociology major, yet Gundlach was surprised that he had never had him in class. He asked two other sociology professors, who also did not recall having him as their student. Gundlach dug through records and soon found that Auburn football players were graduating as sociology majors without taking sociology courses in the classroom.

He found that 18 players on Auburn’s undefeated 2004 team had taken 97 directed-reading course hours — independent study-style classes — from Thomas Petee, the sociology department’s highest-ranking member. Petee taught 252 independent studies in one academic year, 2004-5, astounding Auburn faculty members, who said that overseeing 10 independent studies would be considered ambitious.

In investigating the situation, the university found that another professor, James Witte, had taught an inordinate number of directed-reading classes. The investigation did not find fault in the athletic department because the courses were available to and taken by all students.

Sociology often has a reputation of being an easy major – isn’t it all just common sense (an issue I try to tackle in day 1 or 2 of Intro)?. Stories like this don’t help this image.