• September 4, 2015

Arne Duncan and NCAA Differ on How to Score Teams' Academic Success

On the eve of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball tournament, Arne Duncan, U.S. secretary of education, has called on the National Collegiate Athletic Association to ban teams with graduation rates below 40 percent from future tournaments.

The association responded that it shared the secretary's concern but not his proposed remedy.

Graduation-success rates, which show the proportion of players who graduated within six years of entering college, are not current enough to be the basis for such a penalty, it says. The NCAA's most recent graduation-success rates are for the class that entered college in the 2002-3 academic year and would have would have graduated within six years by 2008-9.

"Imposing a ban on teams for the academic performance of student-athletes who entered as freshman eight to 11 years ago is probably not the best course of action," the NCAA said in a written statement. "Basing postseason bans on graduation rates penalizes the wrong students."

The NCAA has another gauge of how athletes are doing academically, the academic-progress rate, or APR, which it says measures "real-time academic performance" and is a "much better indicator of classroom success" of current athletes. Teams with low APR scores could be shut out of postseason competition, it suggests.

Mr. Duncan, a former Harvard basketball player, said that the APR was "part of the solution," but added that "it doesn't go far enough." He conceded, however, that the Education Department has no plans to mandate his proposal.

Mr. Duncan's announcement followed the release of a pair of studies this week by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida of the academic performance of men's and women's teams in this year's tournament. The institute ranked the teams according to their graduation success rates, taking an average of the four freshman classes that entered in the academic years from 1999-2000 to 2002-3.

According to the studies, about 31 percent of the men's teams failed to graduate at least 50 percent of their players within six years, and 12 teams, or about 19 percent, failed to graduate at least 40 percent of their players.

Women's teams had higher graduation-success rates, but three of those teams also failed to graduate at least 40 percent of their players within six years.

If the secretary's proposed cutoff of a 40-percent minimum graduation rate were in place now, those 15 teams would be ineligible for this year's tournament. The 12 men's teams include the University of Kentucky, a No. 1 seed that President Obama, an avid basketball fan, chose to make the men's Final Four.

The Central Florida institute's reports had some good news, though, including increases in graduation rates over all. Six men's teams and 19 women's teams had perfect graduation rates.


1. amnirov - March 18, 2010 at 06:52 am

If a college cannot manage to graduate 40% of its student athletes in 6 years, it shouldn't have any sports teams at all. Athletics are not a useful post secondary pursuit.

2. apollo - March 18, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Amnirov, I disagree with you that athletics are not a useful pursuit in postsecondary education. Yes, there are many schools out there in which the athletes are used or coddled. However, the vast vast majority of athletes participating in college sports have no designs on becoming and professional at it. It is actually quite a small (but very well publicized) minority. Many SLACs and small regional universities also have athletics and graduate a very high percentage of athletes across all sports. It is the major college sports factories that are to blame here, and give the rest of us a bad name.
Notice I wrote "us." I was a cross-country and track athlete for 4 years at a smaller Division 1 University. I came from a lower middle class background. I am the youngest of 3 kids. My parents made too much for me to qualify for Pell Grants, but too little to afford to send me to school, even with my grades and scholarships being offered to me. I could have attended a local college and worked to pay my tuition while living at home. However, I was a pretty good runner in high school and some coaches took notice. I was offered a partial scholarship, along with academic scholarship and I took it. I trained very hard for four years, was very disciplined, took 18 credits almost every semester in school, and graduated in 4 years Cum Laude. I am not bragging here. I had dozens of friends who did the same with their time at our University. The money offered from the cross country/track scholarship allowed me to become a residential student and devote myself full time to my studies without having to manage them around a work schedule. Of course, one could say that daily (sometimes twice daily) practices, as well as weekly meets while in season are a works schedule of their own, but that work schedule is tailored around classwork schedule. Our university and the athletic association would not have it any other way. College athletics was an opportunity for me. It served as an opportunity for many of my team mates. It allowed me to become involved in a different culture from the one where I grew up several states away. And anyone can agree that exposure to other peoples is an education itself.
On the whole, college athletics CAN serve a very useful role in higher education, if managed properly. The majority of athletic departments do manage things much like I outlined above for my university. Unfortunately, they are not the ones making headlines like we read in the article above.

3. cwinton - March 18, 2010 at 05:09 pm

An enormous percentage of Division I athletic departments operate at a loss when expenses are properly accounted for. Sports such as track and field may be pretty much on the up and up, but the same can't be said for high profile sports such as football and basketball. The NCAA is clearly the wrong organization for the Secretary to approach, considering it is actively looking to expand "March Madness" to 96 teams (where the players would be missing 3 weeks of classes in the middle of the Spring term, making an even bigger mockery of the term "student-athlete"). The rather transparent motivation appears to be unbridled greed, since this tournament is the NCAA's primary revenue source. Duncan's proposal strikes me as naive, and one that would likely add to the pantheon of sham degrees for athletes. If he really wants reform, I suggest a more effective approach would be to place strict spending limits on sports like football and basketball.

4. ignoramus - March 18, 2010 at 05:16 pm

Big money college atheletics are a form of modern day indentured servitude.

Small money college atheletics are a great pass-time and a reasonable way to pay for college.

5. apollo - March 18, 2010 at 09:50 pm

cwinton, you are correct that most NCAA athletic departments operate at a loss. They are dependent on the overall University budget to fund programs. A very strong argument can be made against that policy being effectvie toward the educational mission of the University. Only the very largest schools - the big boys of the SEC, Big 10, Pac 10, Big 12 - operate in the black. University of Florida Athletic Association actually operates as an entity separate from the University itself. It is completely self-supporting and operates in the black, if you will. Profits at the end of the year get donated to the university so that UAA can remain a non-profit organizaiton. Certainly this is the exception.
However, your comment about football and basketball is, in my opinion and experience, only partially true. At the big boys of the big conferences, you are correct in that football and basketball getting away with a lot of sham "student-athletes." I had a number of them in my classes over the years and I was actually quite unsympathetic to their "plight" since I had been a successful student AND athlete. Many of them saw me as a traitor to athletes. The athletes in other sports were very much like me, though. BUT, at smaller colleges and universities, even the higher profile sports like football and basketball are managed in a way much like what I experiences in cross country and track. My alma mater actually has quite a good basketball team (NCAA tourney 7 of last 9 years, highest seeding of 11, a couple of first round wins), but those athletes have never been favored like what I saw at UF as a grad student. The large majority of student-athletes are there to be students first, or at least on the same level as athletics, not as a little side nuisance they must deal with like at the sports factories.

6. mmoore123 - March 20, 2010 at 12:40 am

I think we should CLOSE THE COLLEGES THESE ATHLETES ATTEND AND FIRE ALL THE PROFESSORS!!! They must all be horrible teachers if only 40% of their basketball players graduate.

Add Your Comment

Commenting is closed.

  • 1255 Twenty-Third St., N.W.
  • Washington, D.C. 20037
subscribe today

Get the insight you need for success in academe.