Monday, March 17, 2008

The Men's Bracket and Graduation Rates

Read the link to ESPN here, citing Richard Lapchick's annual study.

If you want to predict who'll win the tournament based upon graduation rates, then you're going to have Western Kentucky going all the way.

One thing that isn't clear is how the rate is calculated and who is in the denominator. For example, should the following people be in the denominator:

1. students who leave early to turn professional;
2. students who voluntarily transfer; and
3. students who gave up their scholarships and quit the team but do not transfer (collectively, the "Special Cases")?

I would argue that they shouldn't be, for the precise reason that these are players who voluntarily elected to leave the school. What would be more helpful would be publishing the matriculation rate, the transfer rate, the leave early for the pros rate and the graduation rate for the difference between number of matriculants during any period minus all departed matriculants during the same time period divided by the difference between the number of matriculants minus the Special Cases.

Here's an example:

Suppose School A had 16 matriculants over a 4 year-period (the max, I think, under the 5-8 rule). Suppose that after 6 years the following happened: 2 turned pro early and 2 who voluntarily transferred. Suppose that the remaining 12 players all graduated within 6 years. I would submit that the graduation rate would be 100%, under the formula 16-4/16-4 = 100%.

I would submit that the following should be included in the denominator:

1. students who flunk out or are asked to take time off because of academics;
2. students who are asked to leave because of disciplinary reasons; and
3. students whose scholarships are not renewed (for whatever reason, including that they'er not good enough).

So here's another example: School B had 16 kids matriculate during that four-year period. 1 turned pro, 2 voluntarily transferred, 1 had his scholarship non-renewed and 2 were asked to leave because of discipline or academics. The rest graduated within 6 years. I would submit that the graduation rate should be 16-6 divided by 16-3, or 76.9%. My sense is that under Lapchick's formula, the rate would be 16-6 divided by 16, or 62.5%

The article says that Lapchick computed the graduation rates by giving players six years to graduate from the time they became freshmen. Those of you who recall the movie "Animal House" will recall Bluto's famous line after the Dean kicked the fraternity brothers, en masse, out of school: "Seven years of college down the drain!" Well, I would submit that six years is ample time for a student-athlete to graduate, even with the big burden that DI college hoops places on him.

My guess is that the denominator doesn't take into account the factors I raised above (the first paragraph with #s 1 through 3 in it). Why? Because Duke's graduation rate is a surprisingly low (for Duke) 67%. My strong guess is that of those who didn't graduate, all of them either transferred to another school or went pro early. If that's the case, then, to me, Duke's graduation rate for men's basketball players should be 100%.

It always helps to understand fully the assumptions that go into any study. The ESPN doesn't shine a bright light on Lapchick's study, with the result that the results will get misinterpreted.

After all, as to Duke, a great selling point should be -- and probably is -- "hey, we graduate 100% of the kids who elect to stay 4 years, but we also offer a superlative basketball environment that will enable you to turn pro early should you so elect."

So, let's be careful when we look at graduation rates. The schools with the top rates -- Western Kentucky among them -- still will have outstanding graduation rates. But certain lower-rated schools may suffer because of attrition that wasn't totally of their own making.


Dance said...

I agree voluntary transfers should not count against graduation rates (I think that's a big complaint about the NCAA numbers).

If students leave because they declare for the draft, but are not in the NBA the next year, I think it should count against schools, as they have not fulfilled either mission of academics or player development (and allowed players to take bad advice). Players in the D-League should count against grad rates--no one declares for the draft hoping to make the D-League.

How do you identify the difference between students who gave up their scholarship and quit the term and students whose scholarship was not renewed? Surely that's subject to abuse?

Anonymous said...

I don't understand not counting students who leave for the pros. Shouldn't the point of graduation rates be one way to measure the academic commitment of the students and the program?

So if out of 16 kids, 15 leave for the pros without graduating and the last graduates, they get 100% graduation rate? That's exactly the kind of situation that warrants scrutiny, not a perfect score.

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