ORLANDO, Fla. – Women's teams competing in the NCAA tournament are graduating their players at a higher rate than their male counterparts.
A study released Tuesday by the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport shows the women graduating at a rate of 87 percent, compared to 72 percent for the men.
The women's field has 21 teams graduating at 100 percent.
Northwestern State University was the lone women's NCAA tourney team to fall below the NCAA-mandated Academic Progress Rate score of 930, or 50 percent graduation rate equivalent. Eight men's teams were below that standard.
The women also saw 1 percentage point decrease in the disparity between the graduation rates of white and African-Americans. That gap is five percentage points. It is a 24-point gap for men's teams.
Study author Richard Lapchick said the women's success in consistently closing the gap between white and African-American players is proof that the men's gap can also be reduced.
"Clearly the thing that troubles me in these reports the most is the gap between white and African-American athletes, though for women it's very different, and it includes a number of situations where the rates for African-Americans are higher than whites," Lapchick said.
Lapchick said he would like to see disparity gaps be factored into APR calculations to motivate both men and women's teams to improve their numbers.
"If (the gap) is narrowing, it should be a positive impact, but if there is a 30 percentage point or more gap and not narrowing, they should be facing penalties," he said.
Currently, teams scoring below a 925 APR can lose up to 10 percent of their scholarships. Teams can also be subject to penalties for poor academic performance over time.
Beginning with 2012-13 championships, teams must earn a minimum 900 four-year APR or a 930 average over the most recent two years to be eligible for NCAA championships.
The APR was developed by the NCAA in 2004 as a way to improve graduation rates. It is a four-year rolling average of academic performance that takes into account academic eligibility and retention.
The NCAA recently voted to institute stricter policies with regards to APR performance and postseason participation. The new legislation will require teams to have a four-year APR above 930 to qualify for postseason participation the following year.
For 2014-15, teams must earn a 930 four-year average APR or a 940 average over the most recent two years to participate in championships. In 2015-16 and beyond, teams must earn a four-year APR of 930.
To that end, the women in this year's tournament are well on their way to surpassing those benchmarks.
All of the teams in the women's field graduated more than 60 percent of their players except Florida Gulf Coast (40 percent). Eighty-eight percent of the teams in the men's tournament currently graduate at least 60 percent of their players.
"Some people say `What's your real aim with these studies, not anything less than a 100 percent (graduation rate)?' I'm always going to be somebody who wants to see people get the best possible mark they can get," Lapchick said. "There still can be improvement and the area is the gap between white and African-American athletes. If the women can do that, obviously the men can do that."
New coach Lovie Smith will have a large say in the hiring of the Bucs' GM.
Will Dolphins get it right?
GM candidates may shy away
While it would be ideal if we were in a post-racial NFL, with a full spectrum of representation in positions of power and no need to count coaches and GMs along color lines, sadly we aren't even close. So, fairly or not, many in the coaching and front office community will be watching closely to see who Smith in particular is aligned with as his general manager, and whether he quickly goes with a candidate he might already know and be close with, or whether he meets with multiple candidates, including some of the many highly qualified African-Americans.
The Tampa Bay process is already complicated by the fact that Smith will have final say over all matters in football operations, so this GM will not have the final word on trades and draft picks. Thus, per NFL rules, teams could block candidates already under contract from interviewing. Smith has long considered Chiefs pro personnel director Chris Ballard, whom he knows well, for this job. Ballard spent 12 years with the Bears, where he worked with Smith – 11 as a college area scout and one as director of pro scouting. Now in his role in Kansas City for only one season, the Chiefs could opt to retain Ballard's services.
While the debate continues about what exactly the NFL could and should be doing to address this dearth, beyond just the Rooney Rule, the larger reality is there is no shortage of black candidates and Smith would be remiss not to explore them. Here are merely a few:
Lionel Vital, Falcons director of player personnel:
Vital is a former NFL player, he has over 20 years of scouting and personnel experience, and has helped find players for some of the premier organizations in the NFL, including the Patriots and the Ravens. He has been a part of multiple Super Bowl franchises and has spent the past six years under Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff, who continues to develop top personnel execs who go on to become GMs (Les Snead to St. Louis and Dave Caldwell to Jacksonville most recently). Vital began his scouting career in Cleveland under Bill Belichick, and was with him in New England from 2000-04, in college scouting, and thus has vast experience on the pro and college side. And he knows Smith's division, the NFC South, inside and out from his time in Atlanta.
Morocco Brown, Redskins director of pro personnel:
Brown was one of the few people at Redskins Park whom departed coach Mike Shanahan seemed to trust and respect, but in that totalitarian regime, opportunities for input were limited. Redskins GM Bruce Allen wants to retain Brown, and as of now he is the most experienced pro talent evaluator at Redskins Park. So Washington could fight his move if it desired, but Brown is qualified, with him leading advanced scouting of opponents, and evaluating free-agent and trade prospects already. He has been with the Redskins since coming over from Chicago in 2008. He spent seven years moving up the ranks with the Bears and he is thought of highly by his peers for both his acumen and attitude.
Ray Farmer, Browns assistant general manager:
Farmer is a former NFL linebacker who completed his first season with the Browns after a long stint in Kansas City having a keyin player personnel. He has received consideration for GM jobs in the past. Before that, he served as a pro scout in Atlanta for three years. He is a product of Duke University and, still under the age of 40, he has impressed many GMs and team presidents with his sharp eye and understanding of team-building concepts.
There are plenty of other younger guys on the rise, like Will Lewis (Chiefs), Lake Dawson (Titans) or Jimmy Raye (Colts). Furthermore, at the other end of the spectrum, former Bucs personnel executive Doug Williams has a lifetime of experience as a player, coach and evaluator, he knows the team and the area very well and would be another highly qualified candidate for a role in the scouting/personnel department or as a top adviser to Smith, in particular. The options are by no means limited. Smith need merely call over to John Wooten at the Fritz Pollard Alliance to get a detailed and diverse list of men up to the job.At some point, it would be refreshing if the boardrooms of the owners meetings and GM meetings and head coaches meetings resembled, at least somewhat, the demographics of the average NFL locker room.
Some progress has been made, ever so slowly, but not at all the past few years. If anything, it has been reversing, and, for now, in terms of GM jobs, Smith has the only game in town. Considering that GM jobs usually produce a much longer regime than that of NFL head coaches – in fact, the general manager often gets to hire two or three coaches himself – this can have a lasting impact on the league's diversity at both the coaching and front office level.Given Smith's lack of an evaluating pedigree, and the degree to which this new job will stretch him, he will need all the help he can get. And given the plight of the Dolphins under Ross, change from the outside is mandated.