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Sports Desk Update: Academic Performance Uneven Predictor of March Madness Results

Our NCAA tournament predictions based on academic progress ratings show an inconsistent relationship with how the Final Four are actually panning out.

The Final Four of the NCAA men's basketball tournament has been decided, and two teams stand out academically -- one in a bad way.

Last week we predicted Butler University would win the tournament, on the basis of our academic performance bracket. The team has a perfect 1000 academic progress rate, which is a measure of the team's performance in keeping athletes in good academic standing and on track for graduation, calculated by the NCAA. (If athletes leave, say for the NBA, it doesn't hurt the school's score as long as they're in good standing when they leave.) The NCAA takes the APR score seriously enough that if a team maintains an average below 925 -- the score that corresponds to roughly a 50 percent graduation rate -- over several years it faces sanctions like reductions in playing time and losing scholarship slots.

Butler has somewhat unexpectedly also excelled in basketball performance, saving our bracket. After the first two rounds of play, our ProPublica bracket was scored in the fifth percentile of New York Times readers, presumably ahead of most people who forgot to fill theirs out all the way. After Butler miraculously upset the 1, 2 and 4 seeds in their region, we jumped to the 30th percentile. We'll take it.

The University of Connecticut men's basketball team, on the other hand, has an academic progress rate of just 930. While Connecticut has managed to squeak by with a barely sufficient multiyear average, that number masks the team's score for just 2008-2009: an abysmal 844.

The other two Final Four teams, Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Kentucky, have middling APRs of 975 and 954. The tournament average overall is 957.

Kansas, Texas and Michigan State -- the three other universities we predicted would go far with 1000 APRs -- really let us down. Same for Princeton, with an APR of 996. One more reason to hate them, I guess.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, among others, recently called attention to the poor overall graduation rates of men's basketball teams in general and the racial disparities in graduation rates in particular. At some schools, fewer than one in five African-American men's basketball players have graduated in recent years.

Tournament Cheers and Jeers

School Multiyear APR
University of Kansas 1000
University of Texas 1000
Michigan State University 1000
Butler University 1000
University of Alabama at Birmingham 825
University of Texas at San Antonio 885
University of California, Santa Barbara 902
Morehead State University 906
Alabama State University 907
Syracuse University 912

Look up your school here.

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