NCAA Posts Graduation Rate Data A Year Ahead of Start of Sanctions

Beginning in the 2005-06 academic year, the NCAA means business about athletes staying on track to graduate. On Feb. 28, it released data that show Division I universities where their trouble spots are if some numbers don’t improve over the next year.

At Carolina, 26 of the 28 varsity sports scored above the minimum standard; the exceptions were wrestling and men’s golf.

Schools that fail to keep at least 50 percent of their athletes on track to graduate within five years first would get a warning, then could lose scholarships, could lose the right to participate in post-season bowl games and tournaments, and ultimately could forfeit revenues shared by conference members.

The NCAA sent Academic Progress Rate information for all sports from 2003-04 to all of the schools. The statistics indicate that about 7 percent of all sports teams – most of them in football, baseball and men’s basketball – could be subject to penalties next year. The NCAA won’t penalize based on the 2003-04 data alone, but it could act after it has this year’s numbers.

In a complicated formula, an APR of 925 equates to a 50 percent graduation rate, which the new NCAA reforms have set as the minimum acceptable level. The organization has begun to track athletes year by year, and the APR is a product of 20 percent per year progress toward achieving a degree.

Nationally the average APR rates for football, baseball and men’s basketball is less than 925.

At Carolina, those sports are each above 925. But wrestling and men’s golf received APRs of 900. Among Division I wrestling teams nationally, UNC ranked in the 20th-30th percentile, meaning that 20 to 30 percent of schools had lower numbers in progress toward graduation; the golf team ranked in the 10th-20th percentile.

Among Carolina’s most visible sports, football ranked in the 80th-90th percentile, men’s basketball in the 90th-100th percentile, and women’s basketball in the 30th-40th percentile.

Jack Evans, Hettleman professor of business administration in the Kenan-Flagler Business School, serves on the NCAA Management Council and is Carolina’s faculty athletics representative to the NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference. Evans said last week that it is hoped that the graduation rate-based reforms will push more schools toward setting up academic support programs for athletes similar to the one at UNC. Ultimately, Evans said, coaches may be forced to back off recruiting academically marginal students.

“Presidents ought to use this as a way to get ready,” said Walter Harrison, president of the University of Hartford and chair of the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance. “They’ll see what each of their teams’ APR is, how it was calculated and how many players left the institution and were ineligible. They’ll know what they have to do – if they’re below 925 – to meet or exceed that mark in the future.”

Graduation rates in football and men’s basketball have been the subject of news reports in the light of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics’ recent findings that 27 of the 56 schools whose football teams were chosen for bowl games last year failed to graduate at least 50 percent of their players over a six-year period. In basketball, the commission found that fewer than one-third of the men’s teams in last year’s NCAA tournament would have qualified under a 50 percent requirement. The Knight Commission’s work helped push the NCAA toward reforms.

With a 50 percent graduation rate as the benchmark, ACC schools generally are faring well in the major sports. Those with APRs of less than 925 are football at N.C. State; men’s basketball at Clemson and Miami; and women’s basketball at Maryland and Virginia.

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