- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Richard Lapchick, head of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, pounds anew the discrepancy in graduation rates between white and black student-athletes whose institutions are competing in the NCAA tournament.

The snapshot, covering a four-year period from 1998 to 2001, employs a variety of statistics to show how predominantly white institutions are somehow failing black athletes.

Lapchick notes that 33 schools in the tournament graduated 70 percent or more of their white basketball players, while only 19 schools could claim that barometer with their black basketball players.

Lapchick concedes that the graduation gap between white and black basketball players is narrowing but not to a degree that eliminates the issue.

“It needs to be noted that African-American basketball players graduate at a higher rate than African-American males who are not student-athletes,” he says. “The graduation rate for African-American male students as a whole is only 37 percent vs. the overall rate of 61 percent for white male students, which is a scandalous 24 percent percentage point gap. Too many of our predominantly white campuses are not welcoming places for students of color, whether or not they are athletes.”

Lapchick does not say how predominantly white campuses could make themselves more welcoming to minorities. And it is hard to imagine America’s mostly liberal learning centers not endeavoring to be as politically correct and hospitable as possible with minorities.

Of course, the numbers do not lie. The numbers only become slippery in how they are interpreted.

It is no secret that college basketball’s leading programs sometimes recruit academically challenged athletes. It also is no secret that college basketball’s leading programs are apt to show a greater brain drain with their black athletes than white ones because of the financial lure of the NBA.

Mike Bibby made himself available to the NBA Draft in 1998 after spending two years at Arizona. He hardly was an exception in that draft and subsequent ones.

A cursory check of first-round selections in 1998 shows that both Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison left North Carolina after three seasons, although Carter eventually earned his degree.

Tyronn Lue, Robert Traylor, Nazr Mohammed and Paul Pierce also decided to forgo their senior seasons in 1998.

Larry Hughes and Ricky Davis joined the NBA fun after spending one season in college.

There were other early entries in 1998.

A player who spends four years in college has become something of a rarity in the college basketball/NBA arrangement. Those players who do exhaust their eligibility are either incredibly committed to the college experience or hail from lesser-known programs.

Not that there is anything wrong with chasing the guaranteed money of the NBA.

From a financial standpoint, it has worked out fairly well for Hughes, to cite one example from the 1998 draft class.

Alas, there is this growing notion that a college degree is something of a be-all determinant in predicting future employment success. That is something of an arrogant position if you have ever cut a fat check to a plumber, electrician, roofer, landscaper, painter, carpenter, interior designer, carpet installer and hardwood floor specialist.

Many of these blue-collar workers live right next door to you in your middle-class neighborhood.

Lapchick’s findings avoid the cultural differences between whites and blacks. Both actor/comedian Bill Cosby and Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock have taken aim at an element of the black culture that ridicules education as one tool in the path to upward mobility.

Both men also pound at the theme of personal accountability.

Lapchick eschews personal accountability and drops the issue on the presidents at predominantly white campuses.

This omits so many variables that have influenced a teen long before he or she has set foot on a college campus, starting with the quality of a student’s educational background.

Much to America’s chagrin, a public education is an iffy proposition, as those living in the D.C. region can attest.

Who is better suited to meet the rigors of college — a graduate of the D.C. public school system or a graduate of the public school system in the suburbs?

That, too, contributes to the graduation gap.

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