In the never-ending battle of the sexes, score one for the ladies – again.
For the fifth straight year, Big Ten women’s basketball programs have outperformed their male counterparts in the classroom, according to numbers from the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate.
Launched in 2005, the progress rate uses a point system to measure how well individual athletic teams perform academically. In the most recent report, released this past spring, Big Ten women’s basketball programs averaged a score of about 967 while men’s teams averaged a 942.
The highest possible score is 1,000, and the NCAA starts sanctioning teams which score lower than 925. These sanctions include restrictions on the number of athletic scholarships that can be awarded at a school.
Many theories exist for why women have dominated the men.
“Women have always had to overachieve just to, kind of, be looked at on a level playing field,” said Kadence Otto, the president of The Drake Group, an organization that focuses on the academic integrity of collegiate athletes.
Otto referred to the historic fact that women are paid less than men for doing the same jobs.
The Big Ten results are no aberration. Of all Division I basketball programs, women also have the edge: 962 to 933. That 29 point difference is similar to the previous four years the Academic Progress Rate has existed.
Another factor might have to do with options after college, according to Matt Stolberg, the University of Michigan’s associate athletic director for compliance. No basketball program in the conference has improved its APR more than the Wolverine’s women’s team over the past five years.
“For men, professional opportunities after school are more common,” he said, noting that because of this, perhaps a degree isn’t as important to some male athletes as it is to female athletes.
But maybe there’s a problem with the way the APR is calculated, especially for basketball.
The two components of the measure are eligibility and retention, meaning teams are docked should players transfer – or leave early for the pros, a situation common in the men’s game.
“I don’t think that schools should be punished,” Otto said. “This is a free market system, and if an athlete is good enough to go in the professional leagues, then they certainly should be able to.”
Early entrants affect a basketball team’s APR more than, say, a football teams,’ said Alexander Wolff, a college basketball writer for Sports Illustrated. This, he noted, is because there are many more players on football rosters than basketball rosters. Still, Wolff thinks the APR is fine as is.
“I don’t think it’s unfair,” he said. “A big part of education is retention.”
Though she admits the APR is a good step, Otto is reluctant to hail the measure as the tool that will keep student athletes students first. She points to the commercialization of collegiate athletics as the more systemic problem.
Recent reports that current Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose had grades changed on his high school transcript to help him get into the University of Memphis serves as an example of Otto’s concern.
“Money has to take a back seat,” she said. “In the meantime, they’ve tried to put some Band-Aid’s on some things.”