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Helping black athletes graduate from college

Published: Sunday, Jan. 5 2014 4:00 a.m. MST

“These institutions that aren’t graduating their students of color should be embarrassed,” Berndt said in an interview. “When they make the decision to admit a student that can’t graduate, it hurts them in the long run.”

Some even believe that colleges play on unrealistic expectations to encourage a large number of black male athletes to put their time and effort into sports, rather than pursuing academic studies that might benefit them more in the long run.

At the University of Alabama, head football coach Nick Saban released a recruitment poster that showed the combined amount of money that nine of Alabama’s former football players made since being drafted by the NFL — together with a background image of checks made out to each player from the teams for which they now play. His football team is 67 percent African-American.

In a phone interview with NPR, Shaun Harper, the associate director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, and the lead author of the study, said that recruiting posters like Saban’s intentionally appealed to black athletes from relatively poorer economic background.

College athletes already have an extremely low chance of getting drafted to the NFL. According to NCAA statistics, only 1.7 percent of college football players go professional.

Academic fouls

It’s within the power of schools to admit unprepared students, however, it goes against NCAA rules to improperly help those same students obtain passing grades.

One of the most brazen cases came to light in November when a grand jury charged a former professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill with fraudulently accepting payment to teach a class, “Blacks in North Carolina,” with no homework, no tests and no faculty oversight.

Prosecutors believe the class was created specifically for student-athletes: 18 of the 19 enrolled students in the summer of 2011 were college football players, according to The New York Times. The Times reports that some critics don’t believe the two faculty members that are being blamed for the scandal could have created a fake class without broader support within the university.

The graduation rate for all athletes at UNC Chapel Hill stands at 74 percent, versus 51 percent for black male athletes at the university.

The New York Times uncovered a similar case in 2006 when a whistleblower at Auburn University claimed that the sociology department awarded good grades even though the students, many of whom were football players, did no discernible work.

Possible solutions

Different critics propose targeting different solutions. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wants to ban schools from competing in NCAA Tournaments if they graduate less than 40 percent of their athletes, according to the University of Pennsylvania study.

The study’s authors don’t believe a single party can fix the problem.

They call on school administrations to more carefully scrutinize reports coming from their athletics departments, on the families of athletes to avoid the temptation of a too-good-to-be-true path to the NFL, and on coaches and athletics departments to get their players to focus more on academics.

"There's a shared responsibility" of all parties involved, said Duke’s Berndt.

Sam Clemence is an intern for Deseret News where he works with the opinion section staff and as a reporter for the enterprise team. Email: sclemence@deseretnews.com

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