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

March 17, 2010

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.