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March 18, 2004 - Knight Commission Study Finds Two-Thirds of Men's Teams Would Be Ineligible for NCAA Basketball Tournament

Only 21 of 65 Men's Teams Would Meet Panel's Graduation Standard

MIAMI, Fla. – In 2001, the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics strongly recommended that eligibility for postseason tournament play should be reserved for teams that graduate at least 50 percent of their players.

If that recommendation were in effect today, fewer than one-third of the men's basketball teams in the 2004 NCAA tournament would qualify. Only twenty-one of the 65 teams graduated at least 50 percent of their players within six years of their initial enrollment, according to the NCAA's latest graduation rate report. By comparison, 53 of the women's teams (84 percent) for which data are available graduated at least 50 percent of their players during the same time period.

The 2004 figures reflect a slight decline from last year, when 22 of the men's teams (34 percent) and 56 of the women's teams (89 percent) in the 2003 NCAA basketball tournaments met the Knight Commission's 50 percent graduation rate threshold.

The commission reviewed each participating team's average graduation rate for the most recent four years for which data are available and found that:

  • Sixty-eight percent (44 out of 65) of the men's teams failed to graduate at least 50 percent of their players. Further, nearly half of the men's teams failed to graduate at least 40 percent of their players.
  • Fifteen percent (10 out of 65) of the men's teams failed to graduate at least 20 percent of their players, and four teams failed to graduate a single men's basketball player over the period reviewed.
  • If the commission's 50 percent graduation rate recommendation were in effect today, only three of the first round of 33 games in the men's tournament could be played with their current lineups: Gonzaga vs. Valparaiso, North Carolina vs. Air Force, and Mississippi State vs. Monmouth.
  • In the women's tournament, 16 percent (10 out of 63 teams for which data are available) of the participating teams failed to graduate at least 50 percent of their players.
  • Stanford recorded the highest graduation rate among men's teams at 100 percent and ranked second among women's teams at 93 percent.
  • The four institutions with the highest graduation rates participating in the men's tournament are Stanford (100 percent); Lehigh (90 percent); Dayton (82 percent); and Kansas (73 percent).
  • The four institutions with the highest graduation rates participating in the women's tournament are Colgate (100 percent); Stanford (93 percent); Montana (92 percent); and Vanderbilt (92 percent).

"It is alarming that four of the teams in the men's tournament failed to graduate a single athlete over the period we reviewed," said Knight Commission Chairman William C. Friday, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina. "Transfers and early departures to the NBA cannot explain away such dismal graduation rates. It is unconscionable that these schools will be rewarded financially for their tournament participation when they have failed at their primary mission."

To comply with new interpretations of federal regulations designed to protect privacy rights, the NCAA did not release campus-specific graduation rate data for 16 men's teams and one women's team in the 2004 tournaments. The Department of Education ruled last year that graduation rate information can not be published for a class in which there are fewer than three athletes on scholarship or fewer than three who graduate. The NCAA and other sources report the organization could have been fined up to $500,000 for releasing such data. Upon request, the NCAA released the 16 men's teams' rates as a block with no association to specific teams. Four of those graduation rates are zero.

The Knight Commission's June 2001 report, A Call to Action, emphasized that despite a number of academic measures already put into place by the NCAA, more action must be taken to restore academic integrity in intercollegiate athletics. The commission's proposal for tying postseason participation to graduation rates was one of its central recommendations.

The commission, which meets again May 24, 2004 in Washington, D.C., supports the academic reform proposals currently being considered by the NCAA and intends to monitor their progress and implementation.

The commission issued three reports in the early 1990s that helped shape adoption of a reform agenda by the NCAA. Its follow-up report in 2001 continued the effort to correct the most glaring problems in intercollegiate sports today: low graduation rates, academic transgressions, a financial arms race, and ever-growing commercialization.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which underwrites the commission, promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and invests in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities.