Keeping Score

And Your BCS Academic Champion Is …

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Duke may not have knocked Florida State out of the top spot of the BCS rankings on Saturday; the Seminoles easily defeated the Blue Devils, 45-7, in the ACC championship game. But in the New America Foundation’s seventh annual academic rankings of the top 25 BCS teams, the Blue Devils — ranked 24th on the field — come out on top.

If you’re a Duke hater, this must be lovely news. Just another reason for Dukies to brag about their superiority. The New America Foundation bases its numbers on factors such as overall football graduation rates and a school’s Academic Progress Rate, an NCAA-created data point that tracks a school’s ability to keep athletes academically eligible. These rankings give particularly strong weight to more contextual measures: the gap between a football team’s graduation rate and the school’s overall graduation rate for male students, how a team’s black-white graduation gap compares with the black-white graduation gap in the overall male student body, and the spread between a football team’s black graduation rate and the school’s overall graduation rate for black men.

Duke graduates 81% of its football players, according to federal data, second to Stanford’s 89% among the BCS top 25. But Duke’s strong record of graduating black football players gives the Blue Devils an edge: Duke graduates 82% of its black players, highest among the top 25 teams. What’s more, Duke is one of only two schools in the BCS top 25 that graduates black players at a higher rate than white players (82% vs. 76%). (Louisville does as well, but the school’s overall low football graduation rates — 45% for whites, 48% for blacks — move the Cardinals down the rankings, to 21st.)

For the second straight season, unlikely football power Northern Illinois finished second in the academic standings. The Huskies are one of three top 25 teams whose football graduation rate (67%) is higher than the school’s overall male graduation rate (52%). (Fresno State, ranked fourth in these academic rankings, and Louisville are the others.) But the most important reason for Northern Illinois’s rise — the black players on the football team graduate at a much higher rate than the overall male black student population (63% vs. 28%).

Florida State and Auburn, which will meet in the BCS title game on Jan. 6, finished 23rd and 16th in the rankings, respectively. Out of the top 25 teams, the two teams playing for the championship have the widest football graduation gap between white and black players. According to the federal data, which in fairness do not adjust for players who transfer or leave early for the pros, Florida State graduates 92% of its white players and 38% of its black players — a 54-point difference. Auburn has a 94% graduation rate for white football players and a 54% rate for black players — a 40-point difference.

Those teams won’t be trumpeting these stats during the big game.

Below are the full rankings:

New America ABCS graphic[2]