The author of reports detailing graduation rates for teams in the NCAA women's and men's basketball tournaments said that female basketball players are outperforming their male counterparts in the classroom due to reasons beyond increased transfers and early exits to the NBA.
"These numbers are tied to the whole sequence of events in their lives," said Richard Lapchick, whose study was released this week by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, which he directs at the University of Central Florida. "If an 11-year-old boy scores 30 points in a recreation game, you see parents start taking that success more seriously, which usually takes away from the boy's academic responsibility. If an 11-year-old girl scores 30, the parents are more likely to say, 'That's nice, but get back to studying.' "
Lapchick's report revealed that 15 of the remaining 16 women's teams graduated more than 50% of their 1992-96 freshmen.
In a report on men's teams released Wednesday, only six of the remaining 16 men's teams fared as well. Eleven of the 16 women's teams had athletes graduating at an equal or higher percentage than the entire student body at their campuses, including national powers Tennessee and Connecticut. Only three men's teams accomplished that feat. And black players on 10 of the 16 women's teams had better graduation percentages than all black students at their schools. Only two men's teams could make that claim.
Pepperdine's women's team, which didn't advance to the regional semifinals, graduated 100% of its 1992-96 freshmen. The lowest-ranking team was Purdue at 40%. The major factors in the difference between men's and women's graduation rates are the transfer rates and early departures to the NBA. Those who transfer or leave school early don't count as graduates, even if they do graduate at the school where they transfer, or later in their pro careers. There were 40 underclassmen who declared themselves eligible for the 1997 NBA draft. The WNBA does not allow underclassmen.
Kevin Lennon, the NCAA's vice president of membership services, said that during the time of Lapchick's study, 1,522 of 4,065 male players transferred into four-year colleges from junior colleges and 660 transferred between four-year colleges. Among 4,865 women, only 611 transferred from junior college and 392 transferred among four-year colleges.
"It does warp the numbers," Lennon said. "I want to stress, however, that junior college men's basketball players continue to struggle to graduate. Yes, the methodology in which we measure numbers needs to change, but it will not change the problem."
Lennon said the 13-member Division I working group that will meet next week at the men's Final Four in New Orleans and again April 30 through May 1 at the NCAA offices in Indianapolis is debating guidelines for the NCAA's planned academic incentive/disincentive program. The plan is to reward teams that perform well academically with revenue and punish those who don't by removing scholarships and banning them from postseason competition.
"I'm not sure if they'll establish a flat line that teams must meet, where we'll perhaps have something like 13 women's teams and three men's teams rewarded," Lennon said. "Then again, some committee members could find fault with rewarding more women's teams. There's not a consensus."
Lapchick said there is consensus that male basketball players have more distractions than female players, including pressure to perform in crowded arenas, travel, professional considerations, more hangers-on and media obligations.