Of all the measurements of a basketball program's success, where should we rank "graduation rates?" Is it relevant? Important? If Chris Wilcox is making $8 million a year in the NBA, but never graduated, does it matter? Obviously Wilcox is an extreme example, but worth mentioning to put in context the dismal results of graduation rates from the Maryland program that came out this week.
It was revealed that a year after posting a big fat zero, the Maryland program improved to a 10 percent graduation rate among freshman entering the program from 1998-99 to 2001-2002. These players enjoyed the most successful and acclaimed era in Maryland basketball history, yet they weren't much on the student part of student athlete. All of this leaves me wondering, "does it matter?"
Even the most supportive advocate of collegiate sports at the highest level acknowledges the hypocrisy and conflict of interests involved. Every ACC basketball player on scholarship likely expects his career to be "basketball," for the next 10-15 years, realistic or not. And these players are celebrities on campus, given special treatment, and live a life that is so different than the average college experience that it's laughable. Think of it this way, if you had a game at Duke or Florida State or Clemson on ESPN at 9 p.m. on a Tuesday, how focused would you be for your sociology test on Thursday?
All of this is not to say that it's acceptable to just not graduate ANY players. That's pathetic and embarrassing. So is 10 percent and Gary should be called on it. The Athletic Department has already spun the data, saying it is not an accurate portrayal of the current state of affairs, but last I checked the same coach was in charge when the players covered in the current report entered and left College Park. We can't leave all the blame at Gary's feet. Players are given tutors and scheduling accommodations in order to counterbalance their in-season time commitments. As many have said, the players have to want to graduate.
But, and this is where I have a major problem with Gary, there also must be a culture where graduation is an expectation, not a rarely achieved "nice to have" reach goal.
If you don't think it's a big deal, imagine how much fun you'd have at the expense of Duke if it came out that Coach K's lauded program was graduating zero or 10 percent of its players. Think that will ever happen?
As a longtime fan of Maryland basketball, I am conflicted. I find it embarrassing that the school can't graduate players, but have a hard time calling guys like Juan Dixon, Wilcox, Drew Nicholas, Lonny Baxter, and Terence Morris -- all of whom are making big money playing in the NBA or overseas -- "unsuccessful." Clearly they are making it in their chosen career path, which is basketball.
And if Maryland and other so-called big-time programs exist to prepare men for life and their careers, then you would have to say they are preparing these and other players well. But that leaves the farce of their classroom education to be reconciled.
Or maybe not. Maybe it's enough for a player with professional basketball talent to put in some classroom and campus time to become a more well rounded and educated individual, and the ceremony of graduation is just that. Maybe it just doesn't matter.
The good news, I suppose, is that the numbers will improve over time. The program has already made a show of pointing out that D.J. Strawberry, James McAlpin, Boom Osby, and James Gist all earned degrees, so zero percent won't rear its ugly ahead in the near future.
It's a step in the right direction, but when you're DFL in graduation rates, the only place to go is up.
Here's discussion on the issue from the Post and Sun if you're interested.
If you read this far, please take a moment to vote in the poll on the right on the topic, it will be interesting to understand how fans feel on the issue.