Roughly 30 percent of major college football teams, 25 percent of baseball teams and more than 20 percent of men's basketball teams would have lost one or more scholarships next year as punishment for poor graduation rates under standards approved yesterday by the NCAA's Division I Board of Directors.
The panel's action, taken on the final day of the NCAA's annual convention in Grapevine, Tex., represents a critical piece of the so-called "Incentives/Disincentives program" designed to put teeth into longstanding efforts to encourage colleges to do a better job of educating scholarship athletes.
The penalties will apply to teams that fail to graduate roughly 50 percent of their athletes in a five-year period. For each athlete on that team who flunks out or leaves school in poor academic standing, the school can't re-award his or her scholarship to another athlete for one year. Scholarship losses will be capped, however, to ensure that no football team loses more than nine scholarships and no basketball team loses more than two scholarships in a given year.
The scholarship cuts won't take effect until fall 2006, with schools notified of the penalties in December 2005. But all Division I schools will begin receiving letters in the next month letting them know how they would have fared had the penalties been applied based on performances in the classroom this past year, in hopes of spurring them to do better.
NCAA President Myles Brand said the measure reinforces the idea that student-athletes are students first and expected to graduate. "We're talking about rather strong penalties here," Brand said in a news conference at the Gaylord Texan Resort, "and not mere rhetoric."
The NCAA has even more harsh penalties in store that will ban teams with chronically poor graduation rates from college bowl games and the NCAA basketball tournament.
Poor graduation rates have vexed big-time college sports for decades, serving as an indictment that the system exploits students for their athletic prowess while ignoring their education. The problem has been particularly acute in men's basketball and Division I-A football, which generate the most revenue for schools, conferences and the NCAA.
In hopes of shaming schools into doing better, the NCAA began publicizing graduation rates in the mid-1980s. The disclosure generated ripples of outrage but failed to change the bleak statistics. So the NCAA has taken a different tack, focusing instead on raising admissions standards for recruited athletes and requiring that they make progress toward a degree each year to remain eligible to compete. The final piece of that initiative is the "Incentives/Disincentives" plan, designed to punish schools whose athletes chronically under-perform in the classroom. It includes the short-term penalties approved yesterday and long-term penalties that are still being developed.
The long-term penalties will be based on teams' graduation rates and take effect in fall 2006, starting with warning letters for teams that fall short of minimum graduation rates that are still being developed. Teams that fall short a second year will lose some recruiting privileges and/or scholarships. After three years of failure, teams may be barred from postseason play. Four years of failure will cost schools their NCAA membership and, with it, their share of NCAA basketball revenue. Still to come are plans for rewarding schools whose athletes excel academically.
Also yesterday , the Division I Board of Directors moved toward eliminating its distinction between I-A and I-AA football programs, which is viewed by many I-AA schools as creating a stigma.