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Derrick Z. Jackson

Soaring on the field, crashing in the classroom

By Derrick Z. Jackson
Globe Columnist / December 11, 2010

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FORGET the ACHIEVEMENT “gap.’’ Let’s try chasm in the racial gap. Based on my 15th annual Graduation Gap Bowl, neither top-ranked Oregon nor Auburn has any business in college football’s BCS championship game. Oregon’s Ducks quack loudly on the field, but they are an assemblage of broken wings in the classroom. Its 41-percent African-American player graduation success rate is the sixth-lowest of the 70 bowl teams and 35 percentage points behind that of Oregon’s white players.

Auburn’s racial gap is worse. It has the probable Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Cam Newton, an African-American playing the team’s key position, but its graduation difference between black and white players is 51 percentage points, the worst of all 70 bowl teams, in statistics kept by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Until such programs are sanctioned out of bowl games, the NCAA will never extricate itself from the rot of exploitation. It is great to see continued overall improvement in Division 1 graduation rates under public pressure. This year, 53 of the 70 teams, a record 76 percent, scored either a “Touchdown’’ or “First Down’’ in the Gap Bowl. That progress is led by the continued excellence of such schools as Boston College, which tied for the third-best African-American player graduation rate behind Notre Dame and Northwestern at 86 percent. Connecticut was 11th on that list at 74 percent.

But morally bankrupt programs still disproportionately corrupt the bowls, a reason the average racial gap for big-time programs has virtually been frozen at more than 20 percentage points since 1995. The 17 teams I believe should be disqualified from bowl eligibility for having either black or white player graduation rates under 50 percent also had an average racial gap of 32 percentage points.

Yet, 10 of those 17 schools (59 percent) were ranked in all the Top 25 polls at the end of the regular season. Only four of the 25 bowl teams (16 percent) that scored a “Touchdown’’ in my Gap Bowl for having both high graduation rates and low racial gaps were ranked in the Top 25. None of the five Bowl Championship Series matchups, and only two of all 35 bowl games, feature two “Touchdown’’ teams. Until we start seeing bowl games like that, the Graduation Gap Bowl will remain a titanic struggle between universities that try to win both on and off the field and retrograde programs that could care less if they drag the reputation of the entire sport down with them.

Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at jackson@globe.com.