A study of teams in the NCAA men's basketball tournament shows that graduation rates for players have become stagnant and that the sport's governing body may need to raise academic standards to get them moving upward again.
The most recent report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport shows a 78 percent graduation rate for men's basketball players among the 68 teams in this year's tournament field. Broken down further, there's a 92 percent graduation rate for white players and a 74 percent rate for black players.
The numbers from the past three years for the men have stayed fairly flat—including the racial disparity. Richard Lapchick, the study's primary author, says the Indianapolis-based NCAA could potentially change that trend with stricter academic requirements.
"I strongly believe that the NCAA needs to raise the Academic Progress Rate so that the peg is closer to a 60 percent graduation rate rather than 50," Lapchick said. "Almost all the teams in the tournament are already above that rate."
The graduation rates are much higher for the 64 teams in the women's NCAA basketball tournament field. The programs combined for a 92 percent graduation rate, and there's a much smaller difference between white players (94 percent) and black players (91 percent). The 3 percentage point difference is the lowest in the 16-year history of the study.
"I think the women are the model for the men," Lapchick said. "We can say we want 100 percent, but realistically we're always going to have a little shortfall. So 92 percent is pretty amazing."
Lapchick said that the NCAA's implementation of the Academic Progress Rate, or APR, in 2004 has helped result in a substantial boost in graduation rates. According to the study, the overall graduation rate for men's basketball players in the tournament has climbed 20 percentage points since 2006—including 25 percentage points for black athletes and 16 percentage points for white.
Schools are now required to score a 930 in the APR on a scale of 1,000 or they face potential penalties, including postseason and recruiting restrictions. The 930 APR benchmark—which all 68 men's tournament teams reached this year for the first time—is equivalent to a 50 percent graduation rate.
This year's study shows that 56 of 68 tournament men's teams graduated at least 60 percent of their basketball players in 2018. Twelve schools had a 100 percent graduation rate, including Bucknell, Creighton, Davidson, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas State, Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Penn, Villanova and Wright State.
Butler University's men's basketball team had an 82 percent graduation rate. Purdue's men's team had 92 percent graduation rate. At both schools, white players had 100 percent graduation rate. Butler graduated 67 percent of its black players and Purdue graduated 83 percent of its black players.
Lapchick said the overall numbers show that schools are ready to raise the APR standard.
"It wouldn't really be a hardship on schools, but it would be an added incentive," Lapchick said.
NCAA spokeswoman Emily James said in an email that the organization's academic committee "continually reevaluates the rate and benchmarks, including its predictive relationship to" Graduation Success Rate.
Lapchick said that the 18 percentage point difference in the graduation rates of white and black men's basketball players remains troubling, even if that's tied for the smallest gap since the study was started more 16 years ago. In 2011, there was a 32 percentage point difference.
"Race remains a continuing academic issue, not only in college sports, but also in higher education in general," Lapchick said.
The study's racial discrepancy in men's basketball graduation rates mirrors similar reports.
A recent study done by Shaun R. Harper at the USC Race and Equity Center found that about 55 percent of black male student-athletes in all sports graduated from college within six years at the 65 schools that comprise the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12 and Southeastern Conference.
That's compared to about 60 percent for black undergraduate men overall at the same schools and 69.3 percent of student-athletes overall for the graduating classes of 2013 through 2016.