The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Gregg Easterbrook complains that colleges are now refusing to provide graduation rates of black student athletes, in some cases for any student athletes.

The bad news is that the NCAA has decided that in most cases, it will no longer reveal the male African American basketball graduation rates for specific universities.

Officially this is to "protect privacy," since basketball scholarship holders are sufficiently few that you can sometimes figure out, from raw data, who it was that never graduated. Apparently NCAA scholarship athletes have a right to not get an education, and that right must be protected! But the real reason for the policy is to protect the NCAA and those many universities that exploit African American players for ticket sales, making no attempt to provide meaningful educations. Many of the schools are public universities that use public funds and have extremely elaborate disclosure rules on other aspects of race and education, but now keep secret the key information about race, education and athletics.

So many political and policy arguments consist of nothing more than deployments of symbols and pieties. Sportswriters attack universities with the sacred cow of education -- everyone must receive a college education, whether they would benefit from it or not. Colleges counter with the holy relic of "privacy" -- which in this case is ludicrous as anyone could figure out whether any specific athlete has received a degree by checking the list of graduates that colleges publish at commencement time. Easterbrook then counters with the spectre of the exploited black man. It's enough to make you think that the invention of writing was pointless. This debate could be conducted using pictographs.

It is true that the colleges' explanation for suppressing athlete graduation data is mendacious. But by focussing on one statistic, Easterbrook loses the forest for the trees. What difference does it make what the athlete graduation rate is when their "education" consists of the following:

How many points does a three-point field goal score? University of Georgia basketball players all got A's on a final exam in assistant coach Jim Harrick Jr.'s Coaching Principles and Strategies of Basketball class. Other questions:

1. What is the name of the exam which all high school seniors in the State of Georgia must pass?
a. Eye Exam
b. How Do The Grits Taste Exam
c. Bug Control Exam
d. Georgia Exit Exam

20. In your opinion, who is the best Division I assistant coach in the country?
a. Ron Jursa (sic)
b. John Pelphrey
c. Jim Harrick Jr.
d. Steve Wojciechowski

Some "student-athletes" didn't take the final, but got As anyhow, the university admits.

What is better: A university where 30% of the athletes graduate after taking real college-level courses, or a university where 70% of students graduate in majors like "geography"? This question cannot be answered by merely examining the graduation rate statistic -- though such statistics do allow sportswriters to recycle the same column every year in which they get to score lots of cheap rhetorical points*. The quality of student athlete education can only be assessed through diligent research, and if taking away the statistics makes reporters get off their butt and do the work, that will be a good thing.

(Link, and the article on the "Principles and Strategies of Basketball class", both via Joanne Jacobs.)

* I already composed this sentence before I read this in the comments to Joanne's post: "Derrick Jackson in the Boston Globe does a column every year about student-athlete graduation rates."



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