Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Football contradictions



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.

The NCAA's APR measure is a real-time indicator of the progress of each team's student-athletes toward a degree. But it’s a much less rigorous test of academic performance than students actually graduating. ... Half of each school's APR score is based on student-athletes just being enrolled as students. The other half is derived from the number of student-athletes completing 20 percent of their courses toward a degree each year, with no minimum GPA required.

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,

Only 56 percent of Division I-A football players entering college between 1997 and 2000 graduated within six years of initial enrollment.

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

  • 47 schools (73 percent) had graduation rates of 66 percent or higher for white football student-athletes, which was more than 3.6 times the number of schools with equivalent graduation rates for African-American football student-athletes (13 schools or 20 percent).
  • 27 schools (42 percent) graduated less than 50 percent of their African-American football student-athletes, while only Florida Atlantic graduated less than 50 percent of their white football student-athletes.
  • Seven schools (11 percent) graduated less than 40 percent of their African-American football student-athletes, while no school graduated less than 40 percent of their white football student-athletes.
  • Seven schools (11 percent) graduated less than 40 percent of their African-American football student-athletes, while no school graduated less than 40 percent of their white football student-athletes.
  • 14 schools (22 percent) had graduation rates for African-American football student- athletes that were at least 30 percent lower than their rates for white football student- athletes.
  • 24 schools (38 percent) had graduation rates for African-American football student- athletes that were at least 20 percent lower than their rates for white football student- athletes.
  • Four schools had graduation rates for African-American football student-athletes that exceeded their rates for white football student-athletes: Florida Atlantic (15 percent higher), Florida State (ten percent higher), Connecticut (four percent higher) and Rutgers (two percent higher).
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

Ohio State has a 43 percent black player graduation rate -- 31 percentage points behind white players. ...

LSU's black player graduation rate is 42 percent, 28 percentage points behind the white players.

And what about Arkansas, where McFadden earns millions for the college, but can't have an SUV without becoming ineligible? Again according to Jackson,

The worst graduation gap, a 53-percentage-point difference between white and black players, belonged to Arkansas.

College football is a brutal sport and an exploitative business - and still beautiful to watch.

1 comment:

sfmike said...

I can't stand football, but just spent the evening watching the first four episodes of "Friday Night Light" on DVD, and was completely amused. If you haven't seen it, do check it out.

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