ORLANDO, Fla. -- The disparity between graduation rates for white and black college football players at schools headed to bowl games grew slightly this year, according to a study released Monday.
The annual report by the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport also showed overall academic progress. But there were 21 schools that graduated fewer than 50 percent of their black football players, the study found. That's up from 19 last year.
Richard Lapchick, the director of the institute, said the widening gap between whites and blacks was surprising because those numbers had closed in recent years.
"That could be a temporary blip, but it certainly caught me by surprise," he said. "I think part of it is the urban education system where a lot of the African-American students come from is so depleted. Too many student-athletes recruited from those areas are so far behind when they come to college, it's difficult to catch up."
The study was based on NCAA statistics collected from member institutions. The analysis is of the 67 schools that have accepted bowl invitations by Monday.
NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said in a statement the organization is "pleased with the progress student-athletes overall and in football continue to make in the classroom."
"There is still room for improvement, but the trend lines are generally moving in the right direction," Christianson said.
The study showed 57 schools had graduation success rates of 66 percent or higher for white football players, which was more than 2.8 times the number schools with equivalent graduation success rates for black football players. That's up from 56 schools last year.
Four schools had graduation success rates for black football players that exceeded rates for white players -- Connecticut (5 percent higher), Troy (7 percent higher), Southern Mississippi (8 percent higher) and Rutgers (4 percent higher). That was down from five schools in last year's study.
Lapchick said getting more minorities in administrative positions -- like head coaches and athletic directors -- could help curb the numbers. He also said he will be looking closer at financial issues to see how much, if at all, the economic downturn is affecting the numbers.
While the disparity between whites and blacks increased, overall progress grew.
About 90 percent of the teams surveyed this year received a score of more than 925 on the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate (APR) compared with 88 percent last season, according to the report. Sixty-one of the 67 schools had at least a 50 percent graduation rate for their football teams, the same as a year ago.
Dave Czesniuk, director of operations for Northeastern University's Sport in Society, said analysts will have to monitor those figures next year to see if it's the beginning of a trend.
"It's enough to get this conversation started," Czesniuk said. "But to actually create change, you'll have to dig deeper."
Lapchick said overall academic progress has had steady growth because the NCAA could reduce scholarships for schools that can't meet the minimum requirements.
"Schools almost never take a very risky student anymore because they just can't afford the penalty," he said.
Lapchick noted that "if there were a national championship based on graduation success rates among bowl teams, Navy and Northwestern would have played for the national championship." He said both teams graduated at least 92 percent of football players and at least 83 percent of black players.
The study found Stanford and Air Force were the best based on APR, with scores of 984 and 983.