• Follow us on Twitter @buckeyeplanet and @bp_recruiting, like us on Facebook! Enjoy a post or article, recommend it to others! BP is only as strong as its community, and we only promote by word of mouth, so share away!
  • Consider registering! Fewer and higher quality ads, no emails you don't want, access to all the forums, download game torrents, private messages, polls, Sportsbook, etc. Even if you just want to lurk, there are a lot of good reasons to register!

NCAA's Latest Academic Proposal

NCAA Preparing to Call Penalties on Schools
Low Academic Performance by Athletes Could Disqualify Teams from Postseason

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 18, 2004; Page A01

Troubled by the persistently poor graduation rates of basketball and football players, the National Collegiate Athletic Association plans to start punishing schools whose athletes continue to underperform in the classroom.

The proposal, which the NCAA Board of Directors is expected to enthusiastically adopt next month, is being hailed by NCAA President Myles Brand as the final and critical piece of a package of changes designed to boost graduation rates and put the student back into the often-mocked term, student-athlete.

Even supporters of the plan, however, worry that it will prove illusory, characterizing it as a well-intentioned idea that has been diluted by compromise and will ultimately generate more paperwork than substantive change. There's also broad acknowledgement that it may trigger unintended consequences of academic fraud: more schools offering bogus courses and watered-down curricula, and heightened pressure on faculty to give passing grades to keep star players eligible.

But with the continued academic struggles of athletes in high-profile sports, particularly in basketball, NCAA leaders believe it's time to take a more aggressive tack. Only four out of 10 players on big-time basketball teams graduate even though the vast majority are on full scholarships. As the game takes center stage this week, with the opening round of the men's tournament today, the NCAA is holding out the prospect of the ultimate sanction for habitually poor performers -- a ban from competing in the annual March Madness event and sharing the riches that come with it.

"Nothing is perfect," said Todd Turner, the former Vanderbilt athletic director who led the panel that developed what the NCAA is touting as its Incentives/Disincentives proposal. "But there is not a better idea that I have seen to try to put some academic credibility into the NCAA universe."

The proposal, which would affect athletes competing at all major colleges and universities, would penalize schools with chronically low graduation rates, beginning with a warning, followed by the loss of a scholarship and then a ban on postseason play. Each round in the 65-team men's basketball tournament is worth more than $750,000 per school. Schools that perform well would be rewarded, although the NCAA has yet to determine how.

But it will be years before it's clear whether this carrot-and-stick approach works. Skeptics say the penalties are too weak and too slow to take effect. Others say the quality of a college education isn't measured by grades and graduate rates alone.

Said English professor Linda Bensel-Meyers, who exposed academic wrongdoing at Tennessee following the Vols' 1998 championship season in women's basketball, "Graduation rates themselves don't prove athletes are getting an education."

Her argument was bolstered by the recent disclosure of a final exam given by former Georgia assistant basketball coach Jim Harrick Jr. to his "Coaching Principles and Strategies of Basketball" class, in which three of his players were enrolled. Among the items on the 20-question, multiple-choice exam were: "How many halves are in a college basketball game?" and "How many points does a 3-point field goal account for in a Basketball Game?"

The outcome of the proposal hinges largely on whether integrity in college sports can be legislated.

While the Georgia basketball exam made the Bulldogs an instant national joke, recent NCAA history suggests that Georgia was hardly alone in subverting academic values for the sake of athletic glory.

Minnesota coach Clem Haskins lost his job in 1999 after it was disclosed that a basketball secretary wrote term papers for his players. St. Bonaventure's president was fired for his role in admitting a standout junior college basketball player whose sole academic credential was a welding certificate. The president of Gardner-Webb University was ousted after directing the registrar to recalculate an athlete's grade-point average to keep him eligible.

"Will it really be meaningful or not?" said Jeff Orleans, executive director of the Ivy League, about the NCAA's proposal. "That's an open question. Even people who support this very strongly know that if faculty are not rigorous, it will get undercut."

Terry Holland, former Virginia basketball coach and athletic director, thinks it doesn't go far enough and skirts the primary problem: Colleges are enrolling too many athletes who aren't prepared to do college-level work.

"The fact that we are offering this tweaking of a clearly flawed system rather than even discussing substantive reform is indicative of the gridlock that affects intercollegiate athletics today," Holland wrote in an e-mail. "Everyone is heavily invested in the status quo and is afraid that any substantive change may rock the competitive and financial boat of their institution and/or conference."

Basketball is often described as the front porch of the university -- hardly the structure that underpins it, but the feature that creates a first impression. And in the bracket-obsessed weeks of the annual NCAA tournament, nothing raises a school's profile more quickly than a Cinderella run to the Final Four. A winning basketball team is profitable, too.

But basketball squads can also deliver an academic black eye.

In recent years that black eye has been abysmal graduation rates. While the statistics have gradually improved (the most recent figures, based on students admitted in 1996 and given six years to graduate, showed 44 percent of men's basketball players earned degrees compared with 54 percent of football players and 62 percent of all student-athletes), there are still schools that routinely graduate fewer than 20 percent of their basketball players. Rates among black basketball players are another concern, consistently lagging behind their peers.

The inescapable conclusion is that too many schools are admitting athletes with no expectation they will graduate. Their only goal, it often appears, is exploiting the students' basketball skills until their eligibility runs out.

"What thoughtful people are beginning to worry about is that this, in fact, is eroding the integrity of the major universities in America," said former University of North Carolina president William C. Friday, chairman of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

In the most recent graduation report released by the NCAA last year, the overall graduation rate, an average that incorporates schools from the Ivy League to the Southeastern Conference, for all students was 59 percent.

The privately funded Knight Commission recommended in 2001 that the NCAA bar any school from postseason play that failed to graduate at least 50 percent of its athletes. The NCAA committee that devised the Incentives/Disincentives proposal stopped well short of that. In fact it didn't set a minimum graduation rate at all, but will leave that decision to another panel.

"The feeling of our committee is there is a point -- and I can't tell you what that is -- below which, no matter what your [academic] mission is, graduation rates will not be acceptable," Turner said.

A little more than a decade ago, educators who were disturbed by athletes' low graduation rates put their faith in a public airing of the dirty laundry, believing that the annual publication of the statistics would shame schools into doing better. It had little effect.

The NCAA is now trying a new tack.

The first step was increasing the number of core academic courses that high school athletes had to complete to be eligible to play college sports. The second step was raising the standards for college athletes to stay eligible, requiring them to make continued progress toward their degree each year in order to play the next year.

Now come the incentives and disincentives.

Turner's committee began by devising a new way of measuring academic success. Each team's academic performance will be tracked semester by semester, with every scholarship player accounted for. (In essence, did he or she earn enough credits to stay eligible the next semester?) The data will be distributed to teams each year as a progress report. Starting in 2005, teams that don't meet the standard may lose a scholarship for one year.

The incremental penalties will be based on four years' worth of academic-progress data so that teams won't be punished for having one bad year.

Three filters will be used in analyzing whether a team should be penalized. First, its academic progress will be compared to that of all Division I teams, from women's archery to men's water polo and every sport in between. Secondly, its academic progress will be compared to that of all Division I teams in the same sport. Finally, its graduation rate will be compared to the general student body's. Marquette accounting professor Greg Naples, president of the Faculty Athletics Representatives Association, supports the concept but worries about the number of filters and the time lag in applying them.

"Faculty really are supportive of this and feel we have to start here because something is better than nothing," Naples said. "But I get the strange feeling that no one ever gets penalized."

More effective, Naples predicted, would be treating schools with habitually low graduation rates the way the federal government treats securities fraud: with a hefty fine charged to the university's general fund. "Most of those penalties are not effective," Naples said. "What you really need is something that hurts."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

Washington Post - NCAA Academic Proposal Ready to Go


Agent Provocateur
  • To be perfectly honest, It has always seemed a bit unfair to me that in order to have the prospect of success as an athelete, you also have to be somewhat smart. If someone's true calling in life is to be a football player, and they can play football better than anyone else, why should they be denied the opportunity if they are as dumb as a box of rocks?

    Don't get me wrong, I love College Football, and I really don't care much for the pros, but it seems to me that the current system provides professional football fans with a watered down product, because there is an untapped market of players who are not bright enough to get into or succeed in college. Just a thought...
    Upvote 0
    I like the idea. And I think Killernut said it all.

    "You have got to know more than football to take care of yourself and family during your life."

    And, Woody1968....you're post confuses me. What you said would seem to say that you think of football as more important than the college..almost like the college is a smaller piece of the whole picture. These althletes are given scholarships to attend the school and to play football/basketball. As part of the agreement in the scholarship, grades are to be kept up. It just kinda sound sliek you've forgotten the aspect that this is 'College Football'. But hey, everyone has their own opinion.

    I just think this is a good idea.
    Upvote 0