In what I believe will be a first for this blog, I would like to highlight some analysis posted today by ESPN.  It’s March and that means it’s time for March Madness, time for everyone to fill out their bracket, join a pool, and sneakily watch games online instead of doing work.  All of this fun is created by the presence of student-athletes at America’s Division I colleges and universities, and we need to remember that these people are students, as well as athletes.

“An annual report by the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport found a 2 percent overall graduation rate increase to 66 percent for Division I players, but showed the rates for white players is increasing at a higher rate.”  This minor increase in overall graduation rate among the schools participating in the 2011 NCAA tournament was coupled with a huge leap in the racial graduation gap.

“The gap has grown from 22 percent in 2009 to a current level of 32 percent. White players show a 91 percent graduation rate, which is up 7 percent. Black players have a graduation rate at 59 percent, up 3 percent from last year’s study. This is the third straight year the gap has increased.”  Though both percentages increased, the widening of the gap should still be cause for concern.

The study’s author encourages the NCAA to raise the overall graduation rates for student-athletes required to be maintained by member institutions, which he believes would place more pressure on all athletes to stay in school to prevent their program from losing scholarships for the future.

“”I think that would help also put pressure on athletes, including African-American basketball players, and the schools will have to be more accountable to make sure they have the opportunity to be successful in finishing their degrees,” Richard Lapchick, the institute director and primary author of the study, said.

My bracket is filled out and I’m ready for the Big Dance to begin tonight (even if it is just the play-in games), but this reminds me that college sports should still only be part of a student-athlete’s college experience.  Colleges and universities should look at this study, and then take a hard look at their programs and make sure they doing all they can to increase athlete graduation rates.  The NCAA, who loves to run ads about how few college athletes actually go pro, should increase the graduation requirements as Lapchick suggests, and put more pressure on its member institutions.  We now return you to your regularly scheduled Madness.  Hook ’em, Horns!