March Madness and College Graduation Rates

Posted on March 27, 2011
by FeliciaOctocog

I just cannot get into the madness that envelops the NCAA basketball championships or for that matter any major or minor sporting event. Sportsmania, sports worshipping, couch potato-spectator sports, fantasy sports – you name it, I just don’t get it.   Pickup games, intramural, youth-run leagues without parents or adults – those I do get because those are adults and kids who play sports because they love it. They don’t need uniforms or parent adulation – they just want to play because it is fun and it is healthy. So what does this have to do with education?

In a recent Sunday Boston Globe article (“Put Obama in the Game”, March 20, 2011), Derrick Jackson wrote about the abysmal 2010 graduation rates for NCAA teams.  What I found most interesting was not the pathetic schools whose team or black player graduation rates were less than 60% but the many schools who managed to graduate 80% or more of their players and still be NCAA competitors.  And, we are not talking Ivy League – we are talking about schools like Arkansas-Little Rock, N. Colorado, Marquette, North Caroline, Penn State, Utah State and many more.  These bright spots in higher education prove that a school can remain competitive and still maintain high scholastic standards.

At the high school level, some schools are also beginning to set higher expectations for its scholar-athletes. Recently one of our students who was doing poorly in school failed to make the baseball team because he was failing more than 1 class.  Well, that is a step in the right direction but had that student been getting all D’s and maybe failing one course – well, that would be ok?  Huh?  I think that you can use sports to take students to a higher level.  Perhaps you could let them on the team for practices but in the first year, they stay on the bench if they don’t improve their grades and tutoring would be mandatory for anyone getting a grade less than a C.  Don’t withhold a sport as punishment, use it as an incentive. Sports coaches have an unbelievable opportunity to influence and motivate their players.  Ken Carter (on who Coach Carter was based) not only took Richmond High School to a championship but held all his players to an academic standard.

There is a serious and growing gender gap in education. Boys are falling way behind girls in academic achievement. Let’s use sports to narrow this gap, not widen it.

If you know of high schools that have successful policies that use sports (and coaches) to improve their players’ academic performance, please write to me. I am looking for some more bright spots. We need them.