NCAA wants higher graduation rates

Before college coaches headed out on recent recruiting trips, they were briefed by their school’s athletic academic advisers regarding academic standards adopted by the NCAA in October.

What they heard left many in shock.

“This is as big as Title IX,” Florida Atlantic women’s basketball coach Chancellor Dugan said, referring to the landmark legislation that mandated equal opportunities for female athletes. “This affects everyone.”

The stringent new standards are aimed at increasing graduation rates among student-athletes. Although they will make more high school seniors eligible for scholarships, they will also make it tougher to keep scholarships once the student-athletes start college.

The key changes mandated by the NCAA are an increase from 13 to 14 in the core courses required for high school athletes and a drop in the minimum test-score requirements.

Athletes already in college face a host of increased requirements designed to keep them on track to graduate, including passing at least six hours per semester, declaring a major early in their academic careers and taking more classes toward that degree.

The roots of the recent changes adopted by the NCAA can be found in the initial Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics report issued in 1991.

The commission was responding to what was considered a crisis in college sports, as a flood of television and sponsor money had prompted several schools to violate NCAA rules in a quest to win titles.

The commission came up with a host of recommendations, but the primary focus was for college presidents to regain control of athletics at their schools.

Commissioners found athletic directors and athletic conference commissioners were making most of the important decisions, and they believed that had helped create a culture in which winning had taken precedence over academic achievement.

Some progress was made after the Knight Commission’s report, but the most significant change did not happen until 1997, when the NCAA restructured its legislative organization.

A month before the NCAA Board of Directors adopted the new rules, the NCAA issued its annual graduation rates report.

The overall news was good, as the graduation rate for student-athletes reached 60 percent for the first time and was above the 58 percent graduation rate for all students.

“This is very encouraging,” said Francis Lawrence, president of Rutgers and chair of the Division I Task Force on Academic Reform. “This is the first graduating class of student-athletes who were required to have 13 high school core courses. The results show that we are right on track.”

The last time the NCAA had dealt with initial-eligibility standards was when it hiked the core-course requirement from 11 to 13 for the class entering in 1995-96. Core courses are college preparatory classes such as math, science and English.

Nationally, football (52 percent) and men’s basketball (43 percent) continued to lag.

No sport has been getting more negative publicity than men’s basketball, as many of the top programs consistently have had no players graduating, such as Oklahoma’s recent 0 percent graduation rate.

“There is no question that the bar has been raised,” Jim Haney said, the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ executive director. “We are advocates for graduation.”