How March Madness teams fared in academics and graduation rates
Editor’s Note: Richard Lapchick is a human rights activist, racial equality pioneer, sports expert, scholar and author.
This year’s highly anticipated NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments are expected to excite fans and student-athletes across the United States, if not the world. These will be the first NCAA basketball tournaments played without seating capacity restrictions since limitations were imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The March Madness 2021 Men’s Final Four had a maximum capacity of 22%, while the Women’s Final Four had a maximum capacity of 17% due to physical distancing protocols. The men’s matches were mostly held in Indianapolis, with a few first-round matches in West Lafayette and Bloomington. The majority of the women’s tournament took place in San Antonio, with a handful of early games in Austin and San Marcos. Since fans missed the intense, electric feel of Arenas last season, this year will be one to remember. Some fifth-year seniors who elected to use their extra year of eligibility remain on teams. This is in addition to freshmen finally being able to display their talents in front of an audience. This March madness will be as close to normal as we’ve seen in a while for this iconic event. Deep three-pointers and aggressive slam dunks will electrify fans in attendance. Who will come out on top? Dozens of different media attempt to provide answers. The odds are zero, and that’s why the odds are 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 to succeed in the male category alone.
After the very public display of the lack of gender equality exploded last year during the women’s tournament, the NCAA has been working hard to make things fairer. As the March Madness 2021-22 events unfold, there are a few notable changes on the women’s side. The NCAA Women’s Championship Committee decided to expand the pool to 68 teams. The male and female brackets were released on the same night. And the Women’s Tournament will now use March Madness as its branding to directly associate the Women’s Tournament with this exciting event. Women’s teams will receive the same type of tournament gifts as men’s teams each round. The women’s Final Four teams will have their own player lounge at their hotel, which the men’s teams have had for several years. The NCAA is also working to improve the fan experience at the Women’s Final Four. This March Madness season, the NCAA will pay women’s tournament officials at the same rate as men. Finally, the NCAA has decided to allow women’s teams to train the day before their championship, as the men already do. There’s still a lot to do, but the NCAA is moving in the right direction. One question going forward is whether the men’s and women’s Final Fours will be held in the same city, as recommended by the NCAA’s external gender equity review by Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP.
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) has released its report, “Keeping Score When It Counts: A Study of Academic Achievement/Graduation Rates of Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament Teams- 2022 NCAA Division I Ball”. It analyzes the academic and graduation performances of teams in men’s and women’s tournaments. The study identified teams’ Academic Progress Rates (APR) in addition to their Graduation Success Rates (GSR), asking the questions: Who has superior academic performance? What do these numbers mean? What can we learn?
Women’s teams again scored higher in the APR and GSR category compared to their male counterparts. The 2022 NCAA Tournament APR/GSR study showed female basketball student-athletes graduated at a higher rate than their male counterparts, with women averaging 93.9% and men averaging 87. .2%. This was the result of a slight increase for women, from 93.1% in 2021 to 93.9% in 2022. The overall GSR for men’s teams in the tournament saw a much more substantial increase to 87.2% from 82 .4% in 2021.
Still, women’s teams fared significantly better than men’s teams in every category we measure:
• Nine women’s teams achieved a perfect APR score of 1,000 (against one men’s team).
• Sixty-seven of 68 women’s teams had an APR score above 950, while only 55 of 68 men’s teams had an APR score above 950.
• There were 31 women’s teams with a 100% graduation rate against 23 men’s teams.
While academic progress in general continues, the most disturbing fact each year is the gap in graduation rates between white and black student-athletes. Fortunately, this year the gap has narrowed for the women’s and men’s teams. Among men, the gap has narrowed by almost two percentage points, from 13.5% to 11.6% in 2022, while the gap between white female student-athletes and black female student-athletes in 2022 is 5.9%, a decrease from 6.1% in 2022. 2021.
In the past, we have seen the gap continually widen, but after countless efforts, we are seeing the GSR gap between Black or African American and White student-athletes begin to close. It is important to consider the unique circumstances of the past two years, as this has played a role in the decisions some athletes have made to transfer or complete their education early. However, in the academic community, it is essential that we continue to make efforts to eliminate the gaps in graduation rates and reiterate that academics must be at the forefront.
The NCAA introduced the APR in 2004 as part of a set of academic reforms designed to more accurately measure the academic achievement of student-athletes and to improve graduation rates at member institutions. The RPA holds each team accountable for the academic success of student-athletes by tracking their eligibility (academic) and retention (if an athlete has transferred). Teams that fall below an APR score of 930 – an expected success rate of 50% – are penalized.
A school’s APR and GSR metrics are used to measure each school’s academic performance. The NCAA’s revised APR standards took effect in 2016 and now require schools to maintain a four-year average APR of 930. Sanctions can be imposed by the NCAA if schools do not meet the minimum APR requirement. They could include the loss of post-season scholarships and competitions, and reduced training hours.
Having the minimum APR of 930 is too low a bar with a 50% graduation rate expectation as the norm. All the teams have been well beyond for several years. In fact, if we increased the graduation rate expectation to 60%, all but one of the women’s teams and all but one of the men’s teams in this year’s tournaments would have already exceeded it.
Student-athletes once again have the opportunity to show off their skills in front of the fans during March Madness. For the super seniors, it’s their last dance. For sophomores, they finally have the opportunity to perform on this unique and huge stage. Whether in the arenas cheering on their favorite team or watching from home, fans should strap in for an exciting race. Knowing that they are prepared in the classroom can go well with their extraordinary achievements on the pitch.
Meghann Maguire, Candace Martin and Harry Moberly have made important contributions to this column.
Richard E. Lapchick is chair of the DeVos Sports Business Management Graduate Program at the University of Central Florida. Lapchick also directs the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at UCF, is the author of 17 books and the annual newsletter on race and gender, and is president of the Institute for Sport and social justice. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick ad on Facebook.