March Madness: Who Would Win if They Scored for Schooling?

Spoiler alert: The Butler Bulldogs are the academic champs. But nobody wins when it comes to the racial gap in achievement.

By Hatty Lee Mar 16, 2011

Tuesday marked the start of March Madness–the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship. Sixty-eight colleges participate in this single-elimination tournament; last year Duke University took home the championship title. But alas, there’s more than sports to this story: A stark racial gap in graduation between black and white basketball athletes is growing. According to the 2011 report "Keeping Score When It Counts" by the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport:

The staggering gap between the graduation rates of African-American and white student-athletes grew by four percentage points to an even more unacceptable 32 percent. This was the third successive year that the gap grew from 22 percent in 2009 to 28 percent in 2010 to the current 32 percent.

There was a two percentage point increase for all male basketball student-athletes to 66 percent, while 91 percent of white and 59 percent of African-American men’s Division I basketball student-athletes graduate. That was a seven percentage point increase for white male basketball student-athletes and a three percentage point increase for African-American male basketball student-athletes compared to last year’s study.

Taking all this into account, Inside Higher Ed came up with the Academic Performance Tournament. Their own March Madness bracket (below) is based on the team’s "academic progress rate," a nationally comparable score that gives points to teams whose players are in good academic standing and remain enrolled, and the team’s "graduation success rate." Based on this method, the winner of the Academic Performance Tournament is the Butler Bulldogs, ranked 8th in the Southeast bracket. Congrats Bulldogs!

Of the NCAA’s top-ranked teams–Duke, Ohio State, Kansas and Pittsburgh–two make it the academic Sweet 16–Duke and Kansas. Kansas does make it to the Final Four in the Academic Tournament.

But even as these teams have good overall academic standing for basketball players, there is still a glaring racial gap in gradation rates. In the championship round of the scholastic tournament, Inside Higher Ed has Butler up against the Texas Longhorns. According to the "Keeping Score" study, the Longhorns don’t do well: The graduation rate for black basketball student-athletes is just 17 percent, while white players graduate at 60 percent. Butler does better, but the racial gap is still huge: The overall basketball student-athlete graduation rate is 84 percent–50 percent for black players and 100 percent for white players.

(click image to enlarge)