Friday, September 10, 2010

The Not So Soft Racism of Michigan Football

Tomorrow, the University of Michigan plays Notre Dame in a highly anticipated football game. In 2004, Notre Dame came under scrutiny of the media, with accusations of institutional racism. The reason was that they had fired African American head football coach Tyrone Willingham after three poor years. His record of .583 was significantly under the school's historic average of .733, and he was dismissed. His contract was bought out according to the terms he had negotiated.

With his pride stung, Willingham met on air with ABC's John Saunders and insinuated that race may have been a factor in his dismissal. Many in the media, eager for a juicy story and unwilling to do any real work, discussed this aspect of Willingham's firing. Most missed a central question: if Notre Dame had really been racist, why did they make Willingham their head football coach in the first place? Why not just hire another white guy? Over 90% of Division 1 - BCS Division (college's highest division for football) at the time had white coaches, despite the fact that the ratio of black college football players was significantly higher.

A reasonable analysis concludes that Notre Dame evaluated Willingham on his merits when it came to hiring as well as firing. Willingham ended up at the University of Washington, where his 11-37 record confirmed the fact that he just wasn't a very good head coach. When he was dismissed from that post, no one cried racism.

If the lazy media wanted to look for institutional racism, I'd suggest they check out the a more objective statistic than the firings of specific coaches. They should look at the disparity in graduation rates between black and white players. Graduation rates for football players may be than the general student body of a school due to different admission standards. However, no such differences should exist within a football program. That is, they shouldn't exist unless one group of players were valued only for their football skills. If they are brought in as a commodity to be used up and then discarded, then a group of football players would have a lower rate than their peers.

According to this Stanford report from 2007, Michigan graduated 91% of their white football players. That's impressive. However, they only graduated 50% of their black players. That is disgraceful. I'd like to hear someone defend that statistic.