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PORTSIDE  March 2011, Week 3

PORTSIDE March 2011, Week 3

Subject:

Predicting NCAA Champs Using Academic Performance

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Mon, 21 Mar 2011 00:17:46 -0400

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From ProPublica's Sports Desk: Predicting NCAA Champs
Using Academic Performance
by Olga Pierce
ProPublica
March 17, 2011
http://www.propublica.org/article/from-propublicas-sports-desk-predicting-ncaa-champs-using-academic-performa

As March Madness kicks into high gear, we will at times
see the best of college athletics: good sportsman[or
woman!]ship, team work, laser-like focus. But there is
also a seedier underside where schools recruit players
[1] who are not academically prepared, let them play
while turning a blind eye to their scholastic progress,
and may eventually turn them loose with no diploma or
prospects to show for their hard work.

Academic reform efforts by the NCAA have identified
men's basketball as being most prone to such abuses and
poor academic performance, with shockingly low
graduation rates for many teams and enormous racial
disparities even among members of the same team, as
Education Secretary Arnie Duncan, a former basketball
player himself, pointed out in a Washington Post op-ed
this morning [2].

"Colleges and universities need to stop trotting out
tired excuses for basketball teams with poor academic
records and indefensible disparities in the graduation
rates of white and black players," Duncan wrote.

We've decided to create the first annual ProPublica NCAA
Tournament Bracket [3], where the teams with best
academic performance win. We created it via the New York
Times' handy bracket feature [4]. Relying on academic
scores results in a somewhat [5] unlikely projected
champion: Butler University. (We're not the only ones
who have had this idea: Inside Higher Ed has done their
own academic performance-driven bracket [6]. Update
3/17: And we should emphasize, they've been doing it for
years.) Click to see the first annual ProPublica NCAA
Tournament Bracket. [3]

To do that, we used the NCAA's own numbers. For every
sport at every school, the NCAA calculates an Academic
Progress Rate [7] score, or APR. A perfect APR of 1000
indicates that all of a team's athletes remain in the
program and are in academic good standing. An APR below
925 will result in sanctions for your program, including
loss of scholarship slots or a ban from postseason play.
It's not a terribly high bar -- it corresponds to
roughly a 50 percent eventual graduation rate according
to NCAA estimates. (Here is more about the math [8].)

We've done this because we want to easily compare how
well success in school corresponds with success on the
court. As the tournament goes forward, the New York
Times tool will evaluate the success of our picks,
leading to all kinds of interesting potential analysis
and we will keep you updated.

In 2008, an NCAA working group suggested changes for
basketball programs intended to address the long-
standing issues with the poor academic progress of
student athletes. A similar earlier effort for baseball
players had paid off. But member schools rejected the
basketball reforms [9], in part because they were
concerned about the effects on revenue.

And little wonder, with the big bucks at stake: a new
Knight Commission report [10] points out that the $400
million the NCAA has paid out to basketball teams for
tournament appearances over the past five years has been
distributed with little regard for the academic
performance of the team. The message to schools: it pays
to do what it takes to get into the tournament, even if
that windfall is not passed along to the players.

In all, about a dozen teams in the tournament's 68-team
field have been sanctioned because of poor academic
performance in the past five years.

At the bottom of their brackets, academically, are teams
that have serious problems. Two teams in the tournament,
the University of Alabama at Birmingham (APR 825) and
Syracuse University (APR 912), are actually currently
being penalized scholarships. Birmingham's performance
was so poor that it could have resulted in a ban from
the tournament, but they were allowed to compete after
submitting an action plan. The University of Texas at
San Antonio had an abysmal multiyear APR of 885 but was
also spared penalties because of "demonstrated academic
improvement and favorable comparison based on other
academic or institutional factors." The NCAA report is
mum on why the University of California, Santa Barbara
was not penalized with an APR of 902.

Teams with slightly better scores also obscure nearly
total failure to ensure the success of African-American
athletes. As Duncan pointed out, Kansas State gets a
nearly passing APR of 924 overall, but that is because
100 percent of its white athletes have graduated in
recent years, while only 14 percent of the squad's
African-American athletes did.

There's another curious phenomenon, though. The schools
that have the highest academic ranking overall often
have less than stellar records with the performance of
student athletes. There are seven teams in the
tournament representing universities in the top 25 of
the U.S. News & World Report rankings [11]. None -- even
Princeton -- has a perfect 1000 score, and the top
schools' average is just 967. The University of Southern
California, ostensibly the 23rd-best university in the
United States, has a cringe-worthy APR of just 924.

A more direct comparison: The University of Michigan is
ranked 29th by U.S. News, but it has an APR of just 956.
Michigan State University is ranked 79th but has a
perfect APR of 1000.

This raises the question: Are the best schools best for
all their students, or are student athletes being left
behind?

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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