As the days grow longer and the nights get warmer, the nation's attention focuses on March Madness, or the National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA) Men's Division 1 Basketball Championship. This year, as well as providing sports fans around the country with some exciting action from the court, the Big Dance also highlights the importance of student graduation rates, especially among student athletes.
While some coaches are more concerned with the performance of their point guards and forwards on the court, others have just as much interest in how many of their players graduate after the competition. According to The Washington Post, Shaka Smart, basketball coach at Virginia Commonwealth University, receives $4,000 for each player who graduates soon after no longer being eligible to play, and $2,000 for players who successfully complete their studies within a year of being ineligible to play.
The news source reports that there can be a variety of reasons for athletic graduation rates to differ from the figures of regular students. For example, the University of Connecticut, last year's March Madness winners, has the lowest athlete graduation rate of any school in the Big Dance, with just one in four players earning their degree within six years. However, officials at the school say that many such athletes are recruited by professional basketball teams before they graduate, which skews the results.
Every year, the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport compiles a list of how each school in March Madness shapes up in terms of its Graduation Success Rate (GSR) and Academic Progress Rate (APR). The study highlights how the NCAA is working to improve athletes' performance off the court by introducing higher APR thresholds for teams to be eligible to play in the postseason.
"There was some good news to report," Richard Lapchick, author of the report, said in a statement. "There was a slight improvement in the graduation rates for 2012. The number of teams below the APR cut score decreased. We need to raise the bar and move toward 60 percent being the acceptable standard for the APR. The NCAA has started to do that by raising the APR minimum score to 930 in the future."
If you're an athlete hoping to compete in March Madness in the future, don't neglect your academics, especially if you're on an athletic scholarship. You might lose your funding if you don't maintain a certain GPA or graduate within a specific time period.