March Madness, the numbers behind the hoopla

(MGN Online)

Often drowned out by the March Madness basketball hoopla and the “bracketology” of who got in and who didn’t, is the “exploitative” nature of the NCAA, wrote Dave Zirin in his latest Edge of Sports column for The Nation.  He duly noted how the men’s tournament that first expanded to 64 teams in 1985 now stands at 68.  The First Four — the “play-in” games are now staged in Dayton.  The winners leave immediately to their first round site, where they are typically fodder for the waiting high seeded opponent to play either on Thursday or Friday.

Also, nothing is usually written about the travel cost many parents undertake to see their kids play, despite the NCAA rule instituted a couple of years ago to pay parents’ tournament expenses, but only if their kids’ team make the Final Four.

The NCAA, after all, can afford it and more: “March Madness is a billion dollar annual operation…paying for the six-and seven-figure salaries of the people patrolling their $50 million headquarters in Indianapolis,” stated Zirin.

Five coaches alone average over $5 million annually — the average coaching salary was around $50,000 in 1984, up from $35,000 a year in 1975, Zirin pointed out. “The reasons coaching salaries have exploded are less important than how little change that has produced for the players themselves,” he continued. In other words, everyone gets paid but the so-called student-athletes, the primary reason why “cable television contracts, sneaker money, and Madison Avenue have all chased our obsessions with brackets,” noted Zirin.

Richard Lapchick MSR file photo

And of course, nothing is noted at this time of year about the real reason why players are in college in the first place: to graduate with a degree.  This paper chase is overshadowed by hoop dreams of gold.

While the Minnesota’s men basketball team have the biggest win increase from last season among all Division I teams, The Institute for Diversity in Ethics and Sport (TIDES) reports that the Gophers also have the second largest graduation gap between Black and White players among the seven Big Ten schools in the men’s tourney this year.

The annual report released Tuesday by TIDES Director Richard Lapchick,  which rarely is discussed in mainstream media other than in sports briefs “is the most comprehensive look of basketball student-athletes” in the NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments that “examined graduation rates, which include breakdowns according to race.”

It shows Minnesota’s Black players’ graduation rate is 70 percent but it’s 100 percent for White players — a minus-30 percentage points.  This is second worst behind Michigan State (minus -60) and ahead of Michigan (minus -20) among the seven Big Ten schools.

However, MSU, Michigan, along with Northwestern, Purdue and Maryland joins the Gophers in graduating 100 percent of their White players.

Lapchick points out again that the women basketball players do better than their male counterparts in graduation success. “Student-athletes on women’s basketball teams graduate at a significantly higher rate than student-athletes on men’s basketball team,” he wrote in “Keeping Score When It Counts.”

He also points out that the graduation gap between Black and White players “has always been significantly smaller on women’s teams than on men’s teams.”

This year’s average graduation rate “disparity” among the NCAA women tournament teams is 90 percent for Blacks, and 87 percent for Whites, a three percent gap.  But it’s nearly 20 percent — 74 percent for Blacks and 93 percent for Whites (19 percentage points) with men’s teams.

But there are some graduation gaps among women’s teams, such as 31 percentage points between Blacks (64 percent) and Whites (33 percent) at New Mexico State; 13 percent at Robert Morris (53 percent Blacks and 40 percent Whites) and 15 percent (75 percent for Blacks and 60 percent for Whites) at Boise State, for example.

Finally, “The 2017 report sounds an alarm of reversal progress and points to a need for increased vigilance regarding the disparity between White and African American student-athletes,” especially on the men’s side, concluded Lapchick.  “Race remains a continuing academic issue.”

The question is, is anyone hearing the alarm?

The entire TIDES report can be read on


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