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DERRICK Z. JACKSON | WEB EXCLUSIVE

Suppressing the bad news on NCAA graduation rates

NOT TO BE outdone by the federal government's attempts to delete key portions of reports on global warming, health disparities, and racism within the Justice Department, here comes the NCAA. That august body is eliminating the graduation rates of basketball players. What is good for the Bush administration is wonderful news for the Universities of Cincinnati, Kentucky, Louisville, and Memphis.

March Madness ought to be canceled with the scandal that is in the computer banks of the NCAA's 2003 Graduation Rates Report. The report covers whether scholarship athletes who entered school in the falls of 1993, 1994, 1995, or 1996 graduated within six years. The report is the best long-term way to see whether a university is providing an education to its athletes or pimping them in an era where CBS is paying the NCAA $6 billion over 11 years to televise men's games and where an additional $3.5 billion will be wagered illegally on this year's tournament alone, according to the Wall Street Journal. The amount of betting is half the annual budget of the chronically underfunded Head Start.

That is March Madness enough, but now the NCAA has quietly adjusted the graduation rates to satisfy ''a new interpretation'' of federal laws which say that information on any category containing only one or two students ''must be suppressed.'' In basketball, which has far fewer players than football or baseball teams, the new rules amount to liberation from any accountability whatsoever on the part of college athletic departments and their presidents.

Read more about NCAA graduation rates in Derrick Jackson's column in the Globe tomorrow.

Because of the new rules, 37 of the 65 men's teams in this year's tournament did not publish graduation rates of their African-American players. Sixteen schools published no graduation rates at all.

Nine of the 16 schools that mysteriously had no graduation rate whatsoever just happen to include last year's most hideous offenders, such as:

Alabama (0 percent for black men and 13 percent overall in the 2002 report).

Cincinnati (0 percent for black men, 17 percent overall).

Louisville (0 for black men, 10 percent overall).

Kentucky (13 percent and 33 percent overall).

Southern Illinois (14 percent for black men and 27 percent overall).

Memphis (0 period).

Nevada (0 percent for black men, 20 percent overall).

Virginia Commonwealth (0 period).

Alabama State (0 period).

The ''new rules'' did not stop the schools with good and great graduation rates from publishing them, even when the numbers of players on scholarship are obviously similar to the schools that withheld the information. Kansas, Air Force, Manhattan, Gonzaga, Vanderbilt, Central Florida, Duke, Princeton, Valparaiso, Stanford, Monmouth and Xavier all had African-American player graduation rates of at least 67 percent.

Among New England schools in the men's and women's tournament, the Connecticut men's team published its general and woeful graduation rate of 27 percent, but withheld its black rate. The UConn women's team published its general graduation rate of 67 percent but withheld the black rate. Boston College's men's team published both its 46 percent overall and 67 percent African-American rate. BC's women published its 71 percent overall rate but withheld its black rate.

Providence's men were 42 percent overall, 50 percent for black men, Vermont's men were 55 percent overall and withheld a figure for black men. Maine's women were at 69 percent overall, with no black women to count.

In the case of most of the New England schools, the withholding of the black rate actually did not affect the overall rate much as the white rate was similar to the overall rate. But it was very clear that many other schools purposely hid disastrous rates. For instance, Georgia Tech did not publish the rates of its black athletes. But with a white graduation rate of 60 percent, it managed to plummet to an overall rate of 27 percent. Texas Tech did not publish the rates for black athletes. But with a white graduation rate of 60 percent, it had an overall rate of only 33 percent.

Last year, 13 men's schools had a 0 graduation rate for black men. The average black male graduation rate for the 65-team field was 35 percent. With the liberation provided by the new privacy rules, only one university in this year's field published a black male rate under 38 percent. That was Eastern Washington, where the rate was zero.

That is probably because that school is not a perennial NCAA powerhouse. Give it time. A couple more appearances in March Madness and they will join Kentucky, Cincinnati, and Louisville in erasing its records, too. If Bush wins reelection and needs some more bureaucrats to delete the truth, he knows where he can find them. At the NCAA and in our nation's athletic departments.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is jackson@globe.com. 

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