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The NCAA's Big Lie About Athletes and Graduation

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UCLA Follows The NCAA Rules When It Comes to Graduation Statistics, but the Statistics Don't Seem to Result in Graduation.

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

On April 24, BN published a story congratulating the student athletes who made the Winter Director's Honor Roll. 16 of the 18 women on the volleyball team made the list. 32 of the 38 on the swimming and diving team made it. A total of 293 student athletes made it.

Then there was basketball. Two out of 15 on our basketball team made it: Kory Alford and Thomas Welsh. To start with, congratulations to those two guys. That gives them two accomplishments I never achieved at UCLA - making the basketball team and making the Dean's List.

The bigger question, though, is "Why did the basketball team perform so poorly, relative to other sports?" Actually, all the bigger questions are "why" questions. Why is basketball different from the other sports? Why are basketball, football and baseball the three sports with the lowest percentage of players making the honor roll? Just my opinion, with no evidence to support it other than my observations, but I think it's the fact that those three sports have a professional league that beckons, but that's a subject for a different discussion.

Making the Honor Roll is a big deal, but I assert that the bigger deal is getting the degree. What about that? Why don't we see a list of kids who actually graduate? Anyone? Anyone? We see lots of other statistics, but we don't see statistics about who actually graduates from college, which presumably is the goal of the student and the purpose of the university.  I asked Morgan Center for a list of the kids who graduated.  Did I get a response?  Anyone? Anyone? (Don't bother clicking - it's the same thing.)

The only things we see from Morgan Center, or from the NCAA for that matter, are the statistics on the Academic Progress Rate, aka the APR, also aka The NCAA's Big Lie." The APR is a fake statistic purporting to be a proxy for athlete graduation but which has nothing at all to do with actual, you know, "graduation" and getting that actual, you know, degree.

Let's look a little closer at the APR. This is the statistic that coaches have to watch, because it determines which kids stay eligible. It's the one that gives the guy in charge of our basketball program a chance to get another bonus.

Here's what a Wikipedia article says:

The mandatory publication of graduation rates came into effect in 1990 as a consequence of the "Student Right-to-Know Act," which attempted to create an environment in which universities would become more devoted to academics and hold athletes more accountable for academic success.[2] However, the graduation rates established by the NCAA showed poor results, for example they reported that among students who entered college between 1993 and 1996 only 51 percent of football players graduated within 6 years and 41 percent of basketball players.[3] Feeling pressure to improve these poor rates the NCAA instituted reforms in 2004, including the APR, a new method for gauging the academic progress of student athletes.[3] It was put into place in order to aid in the NCAA's goal for student-athletes to graduate with meaningful degrees preparing them for life.[4] The principle [sic] data collector was Thomas Paskus, the Principal Research Scientist for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).[5]  (Emphasis added.)

Do you see The Big Lie? The stats show that college basketball players and college football players aren't graduating. Solution? Change the way you measure things so that you don't measure, you know, "graduation" and measure something else. The footnote for that highlighted sentence is this:  Beland, Justin (September 2004). "NCAA Board Approves athletic Reforms".  Academe 90:13."  And this is The Big Lie again: Changing the way you measure graduation so that it doesn't measure graduation is a "Reform."

Here is the most recent APR stats I could find for UCLA, posted just about a year ago, on May 14, 2014, by Jack Wang at Inside UCLA.  These are for 2012-13.  (Jack had listed them alphabetically by team; I changed them to list them by APR.)

Sport

APR

Sport

APR

Women's Golf

1000

Women's Basketball

978

Women's Gymnastics

996

Women's Track, Indoor

978

Men's Water Polo

996

Men's Golf

978

Women's Water Polo

995

Baseball

978

Women's Swimming

992

Women's Volleyball

976

Women's Rowing

991

Men's Track, Outdoor

974

Softball

987

Women's Tennis

969

Men's Volleyball

986

Men's Basketball

969

Women's Track, Outdoor

983

Men's Cross Country

968

Women's Soccer

982

Men's Track, Indoor

966

Women's Cross Country

981

Men's Tennis

965

Football

979

Men's Soccer

961

So the result of poor graduation rates created pressure on the NCAA, and the NCAA fixed the problem by changing the statistic. All the UCLA teams show a fine APR, but we know from observation that not all the basketball players who entered as freshmen go on to play as a senior. It's probably error to assume that anyone who played as a senior actually graduated, but without any response from Morgan Center it's the best I could do.

I thought that a reasonable approximation would be to look at the basketball players we know best - our Bruins, and we need to look at them over a six year period. (The bureaucrats figure that the average student takes six years to graduate. Sure, Houston quarterbacks always seem to be in their sixth year, but the six-year assumption happens to be silly for UCLA, where the vast majority of students graduate a lot sooner.) Nonetheless, I took the NCAA approach. So here are the rosters going back to 08-09, and then we look at who got added each year.  The asterisks indicate the players who played in what was called their "senior" years.

.Roster in 08-09

(Freshmen shown in bold)

Mustafa Abdul-Hamid

Alfred Aboya*

Jerime Anderson*

Blake Arnet

Darren Collison*

James Diefenbach*

Nikola Dragovic

Matt DeMarcus*

Drew Gordon

Jrue Holiday

James Keefe*

Malcolm Lee

J'mison Morgan

Michael Roll*

Kevin Schmidt

Josh Shipp*

Spencer Soo

Tyler Trapani*

Added to roster 09-10

Tyler Honeycutt

Brendan Lane

Mike Moser

Reeves Nelson

Alex Schrempf

Anthony Stover

Added to Roster 10-11

Jack Haley, Jr.

Kenny Jones

Lazeric Jones*

Tyler Lamb

Joshua Smith

David Wear*

Travis Wear*

Added to Roster 11-12

David Brown

Larry Drew II*

Nick Kazemi*

Khalid McCaskill

Norman Powell*

D'end Parker

Added to Roster 12-13

Jordan Adams

Kyle Anderson

Sooren Derboghosian*

Adria Gasol

Shabazz Muhammad

Tony Parker

Josh Thomas

Aubrey Williams*

Added to Roster 13-14

Bryce Alford

Kory Alford*

Noah Allen

Wanaah Bail

Isaac Hamilton

Zach LaVine

I could have included the guys added to the roster for 14-15 (Jonah Bolden, Gyorgy Golomon, Kevon Looney, Jerrold Smith, Thomas Welsh and Alex Wulff), but we know that none of those guys were seniors, and we know that one, Kevon Looney, will never play his senior year. (Of course, he might come back as a student, and he might graduate, but I'm not tracking actual graduation, just who played as a senior.)

So how many of those six classes of incoming freshmen graduated? And how many are making acceptable academic progress? Morgan Center never replied to my email asking those questions. If I do receive a reply, I will update this article accordingly.

We have no access to the Registrar's office or to the Athletic Director's office, but thanks to the Science Fair Project Senator Gore and I put together a few years ago, we all have access to the Internet. We can't know for sure about actual graduation, but we can make some good estimates based on whether a kid was on the roster as a "senior" (whether that's a fourth, fifth or sixth year senior).  Here's what I found:

08-09: Anderson, DeMarcus and Trapani played their senior years. APR is measured for scholarship players only, not for walk-ons, so were DeMarcus and Trapani scholarship players? I don't know. All I know is that they were on the roster as seniors.

09-10: None of guys in that entering class made it to their senior years.

10-11: None of the UCLA's freshmen recruits played their senior year at UCLA, but two of North Carolina's recruits did plus a JC transfer. So how does that work? The NCAA "adjusts" APR, by not counting kids who leave early to go professional, or who transfer.  In other words, the NCAA adjusts APR to take out kids who don't, you know, graduate. That said, Smith is counted toward Georgetown's APR, and the Wear brothers are counted toward UCLA's.

11-12:  New freshmen were David Brown, Nick Kazemi, Kahled McCaskill, Norm Powell and D'end Parker. (D'end Parker is shown in the official stats but not on the official roster. I'm not sure how that works.  As I mentioned elsewhere, maybe he snuck in, grabbed a uniform, and just went into a game.  Or maybe the UCLA stats are a bit garbled.) Well, we know that Larry Drew II made it, and that Norm Powell and Nick Kazemi stuck it out. The others didn't. So three out of six.

2012-13 was the super class: Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, Adria Gasol, Shabazz Muhammed and Tony Parker. It looks pretty certain that Tony will make it. Adria Gasol seems to have disappeared, so it looks like one out of six will play his senior season.  If we add in Derbogoshian and Williams, two kids who mysteriously appeared as seniors, then that makes it 3 out of 8.

2013-14 brought us - two Alfords, Noah Allen, Wannah Bail, Isaac Hamilton and Zach Lavine. Lavine and Bail departed. Assuming the rest stay, it's 4 out of 6.

So what do all these numbers show?  Well, this:

08-09 3 out of 6

09-10  0 out of 6

10-11  3 out of 7 (and none of the three entered UCLA as freshmen)

11-12  3 out of 6

12-13  3 out of 8

13-14  4 out of 6

That's a grand total of 16 out of 39 kids entering our basketball program who played as seniors. That's 41% of kids who enter our program as freshmen stick around until they're seniors. Without some assistance from Morgan Center, we can't know how many of our basketball players actually graduate, but I think playing as a senior is a reasonable proxy.

So how does that stack up with the University's general population? Here's what the UCLA Newsroom said: "UC student graduation rates hit a 20-year high"

Some quotes.  "More than 80 percent of students who enter UC as freshmen graduate within six years, a time frame widely considered as the de-facto measure of college completion."  Here's a more relevant quote, showing UCLA, not the UC system as a whole:

"At UCLA, graduation rates are even higher in comparison. The latest data from the UCLA Office of Analysis and Information Management show that 92 percent of students who enter UCLA as freshmen graduated within six years.

In fact, the percentage of UCLA students graduating in four years (12 quarters) has been rising in recent years and is at its highest point in university history.

Of the students who entered UCLA as freshmen and graduated in 2011-12, 81 percent finished in 12 or fewer quarters. The percentage rises to 89 percent for those in the same class who graduated in 13 quarters or fewer."

89% of kids graduate in four years, plus the summer quarter.  The 6 year "de facto number" is baloney - that extra year and a third adds about three percent.  But that's what the NCAA and the U.S. Department of Education say is the "de facto number, so we'll go with it.  92% of kids who enter UCLA graduate in 6 years.  And that's good.  It's good any way you slice it.  41% of basketball players make it to their senior years. According to Morgan Center and according to the NCAA, that's not bad, not bad at all. It's good. It's good. In fact, it's double-plus good.

Our APR is enough to get another bonus for the guy currently in charge of our team.  Forget about the fact that very few members of our team actually graduate. I'm surprised that the NCAA doesn't impose a less complicated rule: "OK, schools, here's the way we measure whether your kids are eligible.  It's a three-part test:  (1) Have they signed with an NBA team or an agent, as far as you can determine from the 11:00 news? (2) Are you sure none has his own Maserati? (3) Most important, have they assured you that graduating in the official de facto six year period is really, really important to them? If any of those questions is answered in the affirmative, then the player remains eligible."

Or to put it another way, it's not good at all. It's bad. We no longer have intercollegiate athletics at the NCAA Division 1 level. But that's OK with the NCAA, as long as that enormous tsunami of cash keeps pouring in. I would like to end this hypocrisy.

Please note that I don't blame Morgan Center for this absurd situation. This is an NCAA problem, and it will stay a problem until someone has the courage to stand up and say something. Director Guerrero and Chancellor Block, I'm talking to you. Or do neither of you see a problem with just having a sub-stratum of non-students who just play basketball for a few months and them move on?