NCAA graduation rates reach record high, but football, basketball teams still lagging


NCAA President Mark Emmert says postseason punitive measures for poor academic performance will be phased in over three years beginning with the 2012-2013 academic year. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)
October 25, 2011

The NCAA’s plan to bar teams that don’t perform in the classroom from postseason competition won’t take effect for the 2012 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, as the association’s president indicated during remarks Monday.

Instead, the punitive measure will be phased in over the next three years, NCAA President Mark Emmert said Tuesday, with the 2012-13 season being the earliest that the initial phase would be introduced.

“There was a miscommunication in all of that,” Emmert said during a conference call to discuss the latest NCAA graduation rates, which suggest that academic reform efforts introduced a decade ago are bearing fruit.

An NCAA report showed that 82 percent of Division I athletes who began school in the 2004-05 academic year earned their degrees in six years. That’s a record high since the NCAA began tracking athletes’ graduation rates.

But football and men’s basketball players continue to lag behind their peers. Given six years, 68 percent of men’s basketball players and 69 percent of football players graduated. The figures don’t penalize schools for athletes who transfer or turn pro while in good academic standing.

Maryland’s football and men’s basketball teams trail the national average but showed improvement over last year. Just 46 percent of men’s basketball players graduated in the six-year window; 59 percent of football players did so.

The Terrapins football team is serving NCAA penalties for posting a low Academic Progress Rate score, which measures the eligibility and retention of each scholarship student-athlete. Maryland was stripped of three scholarships for this football season.

Athletic Director Kevin Anderson, who has been on the job for just more than a year, said he expected graduation rates in football and men’s basketball to go up during his watch.

“We’re committing to improving that,” Anderson said in a telephone interview. “Our academic support unit has done a tremendous job. There’s no question that we can improve; we will improve. And I have two coaches committed to doing that.”

Among Washington area schools, American earned the highest marks, with 99 percent of its athletes and 100 percent of its basketball players graduating.

Navy’s 96 percent graduation rate for all athletes ranked fourth among schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision, trailing Notre Dame, Duke and Boston College and tying Northwestern.

While graduation rates are easily grasped, the NCAA uses its more complex Academic Progress Rate (APR) to sanction teams that fare poorly in the classroom. That’s largely because the APR is a more immediate measure of academic performance, calculated each semester, while graduation rates aren’t computed until students have either earned degrees or dropped out.

The NCAA Board of Directors voted in August to require teams to post at least a 930 APR score (which correlates with a 50 percent graduation rate) in order to compete in the postseason. As an interim step, the NCAA will first institute a cutoff of 900.

Speaking to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics on Monday, Emmert said he planned to recommend this week that that cutoff be put in place immediately. On Tuesday, Emmert said there had never been consideration of doing so before the 2012-13 season, which would give schools a year’s notice.

The schedule for phasing in the standard is expected to be approved by the Board of Directors this week. Emmert also said he would urge that football bowl games adopt the same academic requirements; the NCAA has no role in determining who plays in the Football Bowl Subdivision postseason.

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