I admit it -- I love watching college football teams battle it out in the huge array of ludicrously named year end "bowl games." I can even enjoy something called the "San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl" or the "Roady's Humanitarian Bowl."
But it is only fair to pause for at least a minute to take in what this wacky system means to the young athletes who so entertain us. For the last few days, the sports media have been working themselves into a lather over whether Arkansas' Darren McFadden, a running back who led his team to the prestigious Cotton Bowl, might have accepted an SUV from a sports agent. This football hero can't accept a fancy toy and remain a college athlete. We hear a lot less about the $17 million, each, that the schools receive for getting their teams into the Bowl Championship Series games.
So the athletes can't take money or goods for their pains -- but after all they are getting a college education. Or are they?
The NCAA (the governing body of college football) uses a measurement [pdf] called the "Academic Progress Rate" (APR) to evaluate whether colleges are moving student athletes along toward graduation.
Not too tough. Schools need to achieve a score above 925 on this measure to avoid sanctions -- but 16 of the 64 teams playing bowls this year are flunking even this soft standard.
Overall, graduation rates for football players are very low. According to Higher Ed Watch,
That's not good, but the picture gets even worse when overall graduation rates are broken out by race. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida (a Liberty Bowl participant this year) publishes an annual report on the difference in graduation rates between black and white football players. This year
The top teams for graduating their African American players were the military schools, Navy and Air Force, as well as some regional powers like Boston College and Cincinnati.
The very top football schools don't look so good, especially when it comes to graduating black athletes. Ohio State and Louisiana State will play for the national championship. Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson points out
And what about Arkansas, where McFadden earns millions for the college, but can't have an SUV without becoming ineligible? Again according to Jackson,
College football is a brutal sport and an exploitative business - and still beautiful to watch.