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September 30, 2004

Focus On The Student Part Of Student-Athlete

FROM THE WASHINGTON TIMES comes a lengthy account of the recently enacted academic benchmarks for NCAA student-athletes.

The article—written as a primer for “civilian” college football / basketball fans—trots out a series of coaches’ protests and observations over the one-size-fits-all nature of the new academic criteria.

Meanwhile, there is still a sentiment expressed among coaches that they can / should only do so much with academics and graduation rates:

• From Tommy Bowden, Clemson football coach, "Let's be serious about what we are accountable for. We are accountable for winning games."

• And from Rice football coach Ken Hatfield, "The only reason a young man would not graduate is failure to go to class. It has nothing to do with academic preparation."

One needs to look no further than last year’s football and basketball powerhouses to recognize the academic shortcomings of the present system:

• The men’s basketball champion UConn Huskies had a dismal 27% percent graduation rate.

• Louisiana State won college football's championship game in January, but only 40% of the Tigers' players graduated during the most recently measured four-year period.

• Only two of the eight teams that competed in the BCS last season graduated more than 50% of their players.

• Only four of the men’s basketball teams that reached the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament reported graduating more than half.

While college administrators might bemoan the methodology of computing grad rates (e.g.- not counting transfers), the fact of the matter is that these are the results that the aforementioned “civilian” fans are exposed to.

Any discussion of student-athlete academics quickly becomes one of racial, cultural and geographic dimensions that do not easily fit into a one-size-fits-all approach.

Consider the following:

• Blacks—approximately 12% of the total US population—comprise 60% of men's D1 basketball players and 54% of D1 football players.

• A recent four-year study showed that 47% of black athletes graduated, compared to 64% of whites. Black men's basketball players graduated at a 36% rate, their white counterparts at a 53% rate. In football, blacks graduated at a 44% rate and white players at a 59% rate.

Coaches fear that the new reforms will cause marginal students to no longer be recruited; that the academic reforms will force coaches to focus recruiting efforts on "white suburban America and private schools" in order to retain eligibility:

• "(The new academic standards are) a pretty radical jump," Says Coach Bowden. "My recruiting base . . . probably (has) the lowest-rated public education states in the last 50 years."

• And from Georgia Tech basketball coach Paul Hewitt, whose program had an NCAA-computed 27% grad rate, "We are putting in the same rules for Lafayette in the Patriot League and Georgia Tech in the ACC. Here we are putting up the same set of standards for everybody.”

Maybe there is some merit to the implementation of blanket rules for everyone, only to be refined and tweaked further down the road for individual circumstances?

After all, that’s what the IRS does year in and year out, and that seems to work [sic] for them.

More later . . . .

(this 524 word excerpt—with accompanying commentary—was distilled from a 2146 word article in the Washington Times of 9-26-04)