ORLANDO, Fla. - Women's teams competing in the NCAA tournament are graduating their players at a higher rate than their male counterparts.
A study released Tuesday by the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport shows the women graduating at a rate of 87 percent, compared to 72 percent for the men.
The women's field has 21 teams graduating at 100 percent.
Northwestern State University was the lone women's NCAA tourney team to fall below the NCAA-mandated Academic Progress Rate score of 930, or 50 percent graduation rate equivalent. Eight men's teams were below that standard.
The women also saw 1 percentage point decrease in the disparity between the graduation rates of white and African-Americans. That gap is five percentage points. It is a 24-point gap for men's teams.
Study author Richard Lapchick said the women's success in consistently closing the gap between white and African-American players is proof that the men's gap can also be reduced.
"Clearly the thing that troubles me in these reports the most is the gap between white and African-American athletes, though for women it's very different, and it includes a number of situations where the rates for African-Americans are higher than whites," Lapchick said.
Lapchick said he would like to see disparity gaps be factored into APR calculations to motivate both men and women's teams to improve their numbers.
"If (the gap) is narrowing, it should be a positive impact, but if there is a 30 percentage point or more gap and not narrowing, they should be facing penalties," he said.
Currently, teams scoring below a 925 APR can lose up to 10 percent of their scholarships. Teams can also be subject to penalties for poor academic performance over time.
Beginning with 2012-13 championships, teams must earn a minimum 900 four-year APR or a 930 average over the most recent two years to be eligible for NCAA championships.
The APR was developed by the NCAA in 2004 as a way to improve graduation rates. It is a four-year rolling average of academic performance that takes into account academic eligibility and retention.
The NCAA recently voted to institute stricter policies with regards to APR performance and postseason participation. The new legislation will require teams to have a four-year APR above 930 to qualify for postseason participation the following year.
For 2014-15, teams must earn a 930 four-year average APR or a 940 average over the most recent two years to participate in championships. In 2015-16 and beyond, teams must earn a four-year APR of 930.
To that end, the women in this year's tournament are well on their way to surpassing those benchmarks.
All of the teams in the women's field graduated more than 60 percent of their players except Florida Gulf Coast (40 percent).Eighty-eight percent of the teams in the men's tournament currently graduate at least 60 percent of their players.
"Some people say `What's your real aim with these studies, not anything less than a 100 percent (graduation rate)?' I'm always going to be somebody who wants to see people get the best possible mark they can get," Lapchick said. "There still can be improvement and the area is the gap between white and African-American athletes. . . . If the women can do that, obviously the men can do that."
Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower