Not long ago, a Kansas City television station ran with a machete headlong into the jungle of NCAA graduation statistics.
Producers and reporters at the TV station were looking for something nice to say about embattled Missouri University men's basketball coach Quin Snyder, and, after hacking through the undergrowth of numbers, they found it.
Snyder, the station determined, was graduating his players at an impressive rate. How many? Sixty-seven percent in the last six years. Take a bow, Quin.
Then the station made that 67 percent figure look ever better by announcing that Kansas University had graduated only 33 percent of its men's basketball players during the same span.
Surprised? Well, you should be.
In the first place, the NCAA has no statistics listing players graduated during the last six years. Instead, the NCAA tracks scholarship athletes from one class during a six-year period.
The latest stats on the NCAA Web site are dedicated to the incoming freshmen of 1997-98 and how many of them graduated within a six-year window that ended in August of 2003.
Both the MU and KU men's basketball programs had three incoming freshmen on grant-in-aid in 1997-98. The three new Jayhawks were Jeff Carey, Kenny Gregory and Eric Chenowith. Of those three, Carey has graduated. There's your 33 percent.
Missouri's incoming freshmen that year were Brian Grawer, Johnnie Parker and Mark Wampler. Two of those three clearly have earned a degree because two-thirds translates to 67 percent.
In other words, although the numbers make it sound like MU clobbered KU in graduation rates, the truth is that Mizzou handed a sheepskin to only one more former player than Kansas did.
Ah, but the NCAA also lists a four-class average that includes the three years prior to that target cohort (the NCAA's fancy word, not mine), or for the years 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997.
Of those four years, according to the NCAA Web site, 60 percent of all incoming KU freshmen men's basketball players have earned degrees within a six-year window. And how many Missouri players have graduated during the same span? The Web site says 25 percent. Big difference.
So, in the final analysis, that TV report was misleading. It skewed the numbers by not digging deep enough.
In reality, there is no evidence of how many of Snyder's recruited players have graduated. He didn't take over for Norm Stewart until the 1999-2000 season, and the NCAA will not post graduation rates for that school year's scholarship athletes until August of 2006.
In the same vein, we won't know the graduation rate of any of KU coach Bill Self's players until August 2010, because Self's first recruits are only freshmen now.
Graduation rates remain controversial, as you may know, because of the way transfer students are counted.
Let's use David Padgett and Omar Wilkes as examples. Both were scholarship men's basketball freshmen at Kansas in 2003-2004 and are now at Louisville and California-Berkeley. Under current rules, they will count against KU's graduation rate for the 2003-04 cohort. At the same time, Louisville and Cal cannot ever count the two as graduates even if each earns a diploma.
Probably the best-known example of that scenario was Jerod Haase, a former KU guard who spent his freshman year at Cal, transferred to Kansas and twice was an academic All-American. Yet in the wacky world of NCAA number crunching, Haase counted against Cal's graduation rate and did not exist on KU's graduation chart.
NCAA bigwigs have discussed amending that strategy and avoiding more Haase-like inequities, but so far no action has been taken.
Anyway, remember this: The next time you hear talk about student-athlete graduation rates -- be it on television, radio, the Internet or in the newspapers -- remember how easy it is to slant them.