ORLANDO, Fla. -- More bowl-bound black football players are graduating, but still at lower rates than their white teammates. And overall, football players from Bowl Subdivision schools are graduating more, a study released Monday shows.
Of the 68 schools going to bowl games, 19 graduated less than 50 percent of black players, according to the report by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida. However, the number of bowl-bound schools that graduate at least half their players rose from 88 percent last year to 91 percent this year.
"Anytime you get this type of improvement for both, black and whites, it's progress," said TIDES director Richard Lapchick said. "These are the best overall numbers we've had."
The study examined NCAA-generated graduation rates of freshmen who enrolled in 2001.
The gap between bowl-bound graduating white and black players also closed a bit, from 18 percentage points in 2007 to 16. The number of black graduates grew from 55.5 percent to 59.1 percent.
However, the gap widened among the 119-member FBS schools. At those, a total of 76 percent of whites graduated compared with 59 percent of blacks in the study. Last year, 64 percent of whites and 50 percent of blacks graduated. Among bowl teams, only Oklahoma graduated less than half of its white players.
Lapchick said the improvement in black graduation rates, while encouraging, still shows plenty of work needs done.
"The huge gap remains an issue," Lapchick said.
The NCAA uses graduation rates as the primary factor in its Academic Progress Rating. If a school's APR drops below a certain level, it can be sanctioned, starting with losing scholarships and escalating to restrictions on practice time and postseason play.
"Those are very severe for teams that have underachieved over time," said NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson.
The formula considers a 50 percent graduation rate in each sport to be acceptable.
"I am excited. Looks like the schools are going in the right direction," said Charlotte Westerhaus, NCAA vice president for diversity and inclusion. "Schools are paying more attention to athletes -- black and white. You've got to be happy."
Lapchick said schools are devoting more resources to academic support, such as study halls and tutors, because of the possible sanctions from having a low APR rating.
"The thought of the loss of scholarships is a huge incentive," he said.
Lapchick said he would like the NCAA to slowly keep raising the acceptable APR rate to keep schools focused. He suggested it go to 55 percent.
"You want to keep raising the bar, but not too quickly," Lapchick said.
NCAA president Myles Brand has said his long-term goal is an 80 percent average.
"We see a trend over the last seven years where rates are improving," Westerhaus said. "I agree with Richard that we should keep raising the bar."
Navy had the best overall football graduation rate among bowl teams at 95 percent and tied Notre Dame for the best among blacks with 93 percent.
Arizona had the worst overall graduation rate, 41 percent, and among black players, 29 percent.
Five schools had better rates for black players than white: Connecticut, Rutgers, Troy, Oklahoma and Florida.
The study showed the graduation rate among all black males in the student body of the schools studied is 38 percent.
Lapchick said too many black athletes aren't properly academically prepared for college or look at school as a ticket to professional sports and a better life.
"The biggest part of it is it really isn't college sports' fault," Lapchick said of the gap. "The preparation is not always good where the student-athletes come from, their schools are under-financed, the best teachers often leave for other schools. And some coaches don't worry about academics while they're working them out rigorously on the field."
Officials at the American Football Coaches association were not immediately available for comment.