THE SPORTS DOCTOR- 40 percent solution: Ed Sec would ban flunk-heavy teams

Secretary Duncan on Capitol Hill.

Carmello Anthony didn't do it; Michael Jordan went back to do it, and Kobe Bryant didn't even attempt it.

What is "it"? If you guessed "finish college," go to the head of the class. 

In January, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan proposed barring men's college basketball teams from post-season play if they failed to graduate 40 percent of their players. Last week, with the NCAA tournament under way, Duncan reiterated his position. 

If Duncan's plan were in effect today, March Madness would look very different. Twelve of the schools in this postseason wouldn't be playing: Maryland (8 percent graduation rate), California (20 percent), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (29 percent), Washington (29 percent) Tennessee (30 percent), Kentucky and Baylor (36 percent), Missouri and New Mexico State (36 percent), Clemson (37 percent), Georgia Tech and Louisville (38 percent).

Duncan arrived at his conclusion after reading a report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. While the numbers detailing the graduation rates of NCAA men's basketball players were about what you'd expect (dismal), Duncan should have taken a hard look at a one recent calamity before applying pressure.

When it comes to athletes, many presidents, boosters, and coaches couldn't care less whether a player buys his term papers, much less makes it to graduation. It's the sport that matters; academic achievement be damned. What does it matter if a school has a 40 percent graduation rate for its basketball players if what it takes to graduate is next to nothing?

Case in point: Binghamton University, a scandal that could hardly have escaped Secretary Duncan's notice. In early February, a four-month-long State University of New York investigation culminated in a 99-page report that was the school's, the NCAA's, and education's worst nightmare– all for the sake of basketball.

At Binghamton transfer student received academic credit for Bowling I and Theories of Softball. Two basketball players' failing grades were changed after they handed in late work, and more were changed after coach Kevin Broadus lobbied professors. Players dropped required classes in favor of "independent study" in order to remain eligible to play. According to text messages, Binghamton's star player, Malik Alvin, repeatedly received money from assistant coach Marc Hsu to buy gas and pay court fines after being arrested for theft. 

But Alvin's academic situation was even worse.

According to The New York Times, "Mr. Alvin, who had left Texas-El Paso, in part because of academic difficulties, asked Mr. Hsu to reword part of a paper because he ‘got that from the Internet.' Mr. Alvin then wrote, ‘Add a conclusion on violence.' In a later text-message exchange, Mr. Alvin asked Mr. Hsu to manipulate part of an assignment to ‘change it up' so it would not be ‘the same exact paper.'"

All this and more– just so Binghamton University could make it to its first NCAA men's tournament, which it did last March.

"Since that galvanizing moment in March, when the team clinched its NCAA tournament bid and students flooded the court, the fall has been swift and steep," the Times story added.

The irony is that Binghamton once was an academic powerhouse, the "crown jewel of the State University of New York system." The president, the athletic director, and the board all had high academic standards they deliberately sacrificed on the altar of basketball. 

If star guard Emanuel Mayben hadn't been arrested for possessing and selling crack cocaine last September, the SUNY investigation never would have happened, and players would still get passing grades for papers they took from the Internet.

We all understand and probably desire what Duncan wants to happen– but on whose academic terms? Binghamton's? 

Already, more often than not, very little is required for college athletes to call themselves students. How much less would be required if they actually had to graduate? Let schools hold basketball players to the same academic standards as other students. 

The NBA should re-implement taking players right out of high school so the Malik Alvins of the world could try their luck there instead of making a mockery of college. At least then we would know that the players who took to the court for their schools really wanted to learn.


Juanita Giles lives in Keysville where she makes videos and updates her Sports Doctor site.