Like it or not, the 2013 NCAA men's basketball tournament is about to take over the country for the next few weeks.
Before March Madness truly tipped off, the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport published its annual report on Monday examining graduation-rate trends for the 68 teams participating in this year's NCAA tournament.
There's good news to report: The overall graduation success rate (GSR) for male basketball student-athletes rose three percentage points, from 67 percent in 2012 to 70 percent this year. The GSR for African-American basketball players rose "substantially," according to the report, jumping from 59 percent in 2012 to 65 percent in 2013.
The GSR represents the graduation rates of Division I student-athletes and includes student-athletes who transfer into institutions. Student-athletes who leave before graduating (to pursue professional sports interests, for example) can be excluded from the GSR as long as they would have been academically eligible to participate in sports had they stayed.
The graduation-rate gap between white and African-American male basketball players also decreased by three percentage points this year, dropping from 28 percent in 2012 to 25 percent in 2013.
The disparity remains far too large on certain teams, however, to please Richard Lapchick, the primary author of the study and the director of TIDES.
"It is simply not acceptable that in 2013, 40 percent of the men's teams had a GSR disparity of greater than 30 percent between white student-athletes and African-American student-athletes, and 53 percent had a GSR disparity of greater than 20 percent," said Lapchick in a statement.
A Simply Academic Bracket Projection
The report also features the Academic Progress Rate (APR) for all 68 schools in the tournament, for those curious about who would win an academics-based March Madness. The APR is a four-year metric that takes into account each student-athlete's academic standing and retention on the team.
This year's tournament features six teams with a perfect APR of 1000, according to the TIDES report: Belmont University, Butler University, the University of Kansas, the University of Memphis, the University of Michigan, and the University of Notre Dame.
Based on the APR scores listed in the TIDES report, I went ahead and created an academic-based bracket, where the team with the higher APR in each matchup advances. In the case of a tie, such as the two Final Four matchups, the higher-seeded team advanced.
If academics were the determining factor in this year's NCAA tournament, we'd end up having a rematch of the 2008 championship game between Memphis and Kansas. To the chagrin of Memphis fans, the higher-seeded Jayhawks would once again prevail as champions.
Beyond just being an easy way to create an academics-based bracket, the APR has postseason implications for teams that fall below a certain benchmark. The NCAA Division I board of directors approved a rule change in August 2011 that requires teams to exceed an APR of 930—which represents a roughly 50 percent graduation rate—averaged over four years to be eligible for postseason play.
Starting this past school year and continuing in 2013-14, teams need to either achieve a 900 APR average over the past four years (correlating to roughly a 40 percent graduation rate) or a 930 APR average over the past two years to retain postseason eligibility. In 2014-15, teams must meet the 930 APR average over four years or average a 940 APR over the past two years to be eligible for the postseason. By the 2015-16 school year, all teams must reach the 930 APR benchmark or they'll be ineligible for postseason play.
Six teams in this year's tournament fall below the new APR cutline of 930: Southern University (863), St. Louis University (923), James Madison University (924), New Mexico State University (926), the University of Oregon (926), and Oklahoma State University (928). Keep in mind, these are only one-year APRs, not the two- or four-year averages needed to retain postseason eligibility.
The University of Connecticut men's basketball team was banned from the 2013 postseason due to the school falling short of the NCAA's new academic standards.
This is also probably a good time to mention that despite the prevalence of March Madness bracket pools, the NCAA itself frowns upon gambling on the tournament. "Fans should enjoy following the tournament and filling out a bracket just for the fun of it, not on the amount of money they could possibly win," the organization says.
Want all the latest K-12 sports news? Follow @SchooledinSport on Twitter.