Knight Commission Calls for Bowl Game Eligibility Reforms Under Commission Standards, 26 of 28 Bowl Games Could Not be Played

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

If that recommendation were in effect today, 26 of this year’s 28 bowl games could not be played with their current lineups. Thirty-two of this season’s 56 bowl teams failed to graduate at least 50 percent of their players within six years of their initial enrollment, according to the NCAA’s latest graduation rate report.

The Commission reviewed each participating institution’s average graduation rate for the most recent four years and found that:

  • Fifty-eight percent of the participating teams failed to graduate at least 50 percent of their players. Further, one-quarter of the participating teams failed to graduate at least 40 percent of their players.
  • Seventy-three percent of the participating teams graduated their football players at a lower rate than the male student body at their institutions.
  • The two games that could be played are the Houston Bowl (Navy vs. Texas Tech) and the Capital One Bowl (Purdue vs. Georgia). The Sugar Bowl — to determine a national champion based on the Bowl Championship Series formula — features Oklahoma and Louisiana State University, with graduation rates for football players at 33 percent and 40 percent, respectively.
  • The three schools with the highest graduations rates participating in bowls are Northwestern (83 percent), Boston College (79 percent) and Virginia (76 percent).

“It is unacceptable to the Knight Commission — and, we trust, to other university presidents as well — that nearly two-thirds of the teams participating in bowl games fail to graduate at least 50 percent of their players,” said Knight Commission Chairman William C. Friday, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina. “It is a reasonable — indeed, minimum — standard for demonstrating that academics are valued in big-time college football.”

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. Its proposal for tying bowl participation to graduation rates was one of its central recommendations.

The Commission, which meets again Feb. 2, 2004 in Washington, D.C., supports 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.