ABC News' Mary Bruce Reports: Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a well-known basketball fan and former pro player, frequently plays hoops with President Obama, but today he’s taking on the NCAA in a full court press.
Duncan today called for the NCAA to impose stricter academic requirements on teams, saying schools that graduate less than half of their players should be banned from “post season glory.”
“If you can’t manage to graduate half of your players, how serious is the institution and the coach and the program about their players’ academic success? Are you actually preparing your student athletes for success just on the court, or in life?” Duncan told reporters on a conference call this afternoon.
Based on the Secretary’s benchmark, ten of the 68 men’s teams in this year’s March Madness would be ineligible.
Duncan highlighted financial revenue as a key piece of the puzzle and called out institutions for “making millions on their players backs.”
According to a report by the Knight Commission, over the past five years $179 million, almost half of the money awarded for appearances in the tournament, went to teams that failed to graduate at least half their players.
“Right now the formula handsomely rewards teams who are winning games in the tournament, but it does little to reward teams for meeting minimal academic benchmarks,” Duncan said. “I simply cannot understand why we continue to reward teams for failing to meet the most basic of academic standards off of the courts.”
Duncan also expressed frustration at what he described as the “unconscionable” gap in graduation rates between white and black players.
Only eight men’s teams in this year’s tournament graduated 100 percent of their black and white players in recent years, including Illinois, Villanova and Utah State. In the women’s tournament, one in three teams are graduating 100 percent of their white and black players.
Several schools have huge discrepancies. Kansas State, for example, graduated 100 percent of their white players, but only 14 percent of black players, an 86 percent discrepancy. At UC Santa Barbara it’s a 67 percent difference. At USC it’s 62 percent.
A significant gap also exists between the women’s and men’s team. At the University of Connecticut, for example, more than 90 percent of the white and black players on the women’s team graduate. The men’s team, however, is barely on track to graduate half of their players and only 25 percent of black players earn a degree.
For Duncan, a former college basketball player, the issue is personal. “I played with guys who had helped their college programs earned millions of dollars, only to be dumped without a degree with that ball stopped bouncing for them and their playing days were over,” he said.