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By the Book

by Archives March 25, 2008

Last week, an independent company released the graduation rates of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament’s 64 teams.
Out of the 64 teams, only one had a graduation rate of 100 per cent. That school? The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
The Hilltoppers, a no. 12 seed upset the no. 5 ranked Drake Bulldogs in their first round West region game.
It was how the game was won, however, that got me thinking. Western Kentucky was down by one point with seconds remaining. Off an inbound play, leading scorer Tyrone Brazelton handed the ball off to teammate Ty Rogers. Rogers proceeded to shoot a very long three pointer with a defender in his face. The shot went in and they won by two. Now, my opinion is that basketball IQ might be inversely proportional to graduation rates. Of the four teams ranked No. 1, only North Carolina had over 50 per cent of its players graduate (86 per cent to be exact).
So, the decision for Rogers to shoot a long, contested three was not the smartest one, but the basketball gods smiled on the Hilltoppers and the shot went in anyway. I guess it shows that schools and athletes who keep the student in student-athlete can win games after all.
Now, this is an extreme example and I don’t actually believe the graduation rate helped Western Kentucky win, but it illustrates another point people often ignore when talking about the best players in the NCAA.
A great majority of them have a college education handed to them based on their incredible athletic ability, yet a great majority of those players don’t leave college with their university degree.
If you take basketball as an example, most teams have around 10 to 2 scholarship athletes. For argument’s sake, let’s split the difference and use 11. The NCAA’s men’s basketball Division One has 341 schools. That is an approximate total of 3,751 players.
The NBA draft has two rounds, where all 30 teams have two selections of the best players who declare for the draft. That means 60 players per year, including players who do not play in the NCAA, but choose to come over from outside North America.
If you figure that each player has four years of eligibility plus one season where they can sit out and watch for a year, (a ‘red-shirt’ year) it means that less than 300 of the current NCAA players will get drafted in the NBA.
In the last four years, 56 international players have been drafted into the NBA, so that is an average of 14 per year.
If you are still reading the column at this point, thank you, and the conclusion is about to come. So, that means that over the next five years approximately 244 of the 3,751 NCAA basketball players with a scholarship will get drafted in the NBA for a final percentage of 6.5.
It begs the question. For a majority of these athletes, they are the first in their family to receive higher education. It is an opportunity for them to make a better life for themselves and their families. However, if they don’t graduate and they don’t make it to the NBA, what is the point?
The NCAA runs commercials saying that 99 per cent of their players turn pro in something other than sports, so they definitely realize the numbers game. The problem is that the universities, the NCAA and especially the players aren’t doing enough to help more players leave with that degree.
Last week, I pointed out some differences between the CIS and the NCAA. This week, another difference came out to the woodwork. In Canada, the athletes put the student in student-athlete. They graduate and move on to bigger and better things. They go to classes before and minutes after practice. They don’t have mass-cheating scandals and they don’t have everything handed to them because they can play sports.
Now, the numbers used on this study are for a span of players entering college between the 1997-98 and 2000-01 seasons. It was meant as a “snapshot of academic trends,” according to the report.
However, the Western Kentucky team proved something when they beat Drake in the first round. It showed that you could still play some basketball even when you have a team full of committed students. I would go out on a limb and say that not one of the Hilltoppers will play a game of professional basketball, but they will still be successful in the future.
And Ty Rogers will have an on-court memory that will last a lifetime.

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