Overall graduation rates improved among players at schools in this year's men's NCAA basketball tournament, and African-American players in particular did better, according to a study released Monday.
The annual report by the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) shows African-American players' graduation success rate increased from 59 percent in 2012 to 65 percent this year, while white players' rates increased from 88 percent to 90 percent.
The overall graduation rates for programs in the tournament increased from 67 percent in 2012 to 70 percent.
Six out of the tournament's 68 teams have an APR score that falls below the NCAA's new 930 line, which could lead to future penalties. Those teams are Southern, James Madison, Saint Louis, New Mexico State, Oregon and Oklahoma State.
Richard Lapchick, the study's primary author, said the majority of the report contains good news.
Information was collected by the NCAA from member institutions for the study. The institute reviewed the six-year graduation rates of each school's freshman class, or Graduation Success Rates, then calculated a four-class average or Academic Progress Rate.
"In general, it's the most progress I've seen overall," Lapchick said told The Associated Press. "To be specific, every facet that we consider, everyone on the team, all the graduation rates increased. The APR scores increased significantly over the past year. And the difference in rates between white and African-American players declined 3 percent, though that gap is still a major factor of concern."
There is a 25 percentage point difference in the graduation gap between white and African-American players among tournament teams this year.
Lapchick said more progress needs to be made in that area, though he noted the 65 percent graduation rate for African-American basketball players was significantly higher than the 38 percent for all male African-American college students.
Lapchick said there were two major factors in the study's improving numbers: the NCAA's tightening academic rules and the recent involvement of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
"The fact that teams can lose scholarships has been an extremely strong deterrent. Everything has improved consistently and continues to improve," Lapchick said. "Arne Duncan got involved and that's also been very important. He was a student athlete and the NCAA certainly doesn't want the federal government involved."
The APR was developed by the NCAA in 2004 as a means to improve graduation rates and is a four-year rolling average of academic performance that takes into account academic eligibility and retention.
The NCAA recently voted to increase its APR cutoff line for Division I programs from 925 to 930, which is roughly equivalent to a 50 percent graduation rate. The new standard is being phased into the NCAA's average starting this year.
Ten schools were banned from this year's postseason — including 2011 national champion Connecticut.
Lapchick said the real threat of penalties has encouraged schools to watch graduation rates closely. This year's study showed that 79 percent of the teams (54 of 68) in this year's tournament have scores of 950 or more.
"We are doing better each year," Lapchick said in the report. "The academic reforms instituted in the past have worked. We need to raise the bar and move toward 60 percent being the acceptable standard for the APR. Two thirds of this year's teams in the men's tournament are already there."
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