Knight Commission Continues Call for Academic Performance To Factor into Bowl Game Eligibility

MIAMI, Fla. – In 2001, the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics 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, nearly half of the participating teams would not be eligible.  Twenty-seven 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 number of teams failing to meet the 50 percent standard, however, is an improvement from last season when 32 of the 56 teams failed to meet this standard.  This improvement is largely a result of the 57 percent graduation rate for the 1997-98 entering class of athletes participating in Division I-A football, which the NCAA has noted “matched an all-time high in the sport since the NCAA began tracking graduation rates with the 1984 class.”

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

  • Nearly half (48 percent) of the participating teams failed to graduate at least 50 percent of their players within six years of their initial enrollment. 
  • Only three of the eight teams in the Bowl Championship Series graduated more than 50 percent of their players over the most recent four-year period reviewed.  Those teams are Michigan, Virginia Tech, and Southern California. If the 50 percent requirement were in effect today, no BCS bowl game could be played with its current line-up.
  • And among the other bowls, only six could be played with their current line-ups if the 50 percent requirement were in effect today – the Fort Worth Bowl, Hawaii Bowl, Motor City Bowl, Independence Bowl, Continental Tire Bowl, and Outback Bowl. 
  • More than half (51 percent) of the participating teams failed to graduate at least 50 percent of the players who began their enrollment at another university or junior college and transferred to the institution.  Further, nearly one-quarter (14) of the 53 teams that reported rates for transfer athletes failed to graduate more than 30 percent of them.  Transfer athletes’ graduation rates are reported separately from those who initially enroll as freshmen under the federally mandated guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Education.  Transfer rates are important since critics have argued that the federally mandated graduation rates do not depict a complete picture – and often convey a negative picture – because students who transfer from an institution in good academic standing count against the team’s rate, and students who transfer to an institution and graduate are not credited to the team’s rate.  The NCAA’s new measurement system, the “academic performance rate,” will track the performance of incoming and outgoing transfer students in the overall graduation rate.
  • The three schools with the highest graduations rates participating in bowls are Boston College (78 percent), Syracuse (78 percent) and Notre Dame (77 percent).

“The NCAA’s movement toward a system that will factor academic performance into bowl-eligibility criteria certainly is a step toward improving the unacceptable status quo.  It is critical that the criteria for this system, which will be determined early next year, be tough enough to improve graduation rates or eliminate participation of underperforming schools,” said Knight Commission Chairman William C. Friday, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina.  “I am hopeful that the performance of the 1997-98 class is the start of an upward trend; however, it is important that the performance of transfer athletes not be overlooked due to the relatively high number of transfer athletes in football.”

The commission meets again Feb. 7, 2005 in Miami, Fla. and will hear a report from Walter Harrison, president, University of Hartford and chair of the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance.  This committee is responsible for implementation of the academic performance legislation that could prohibit postseason participation for teams that fail to meet academic performance standards.

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 postseason participation to graduation rates was one of its central recommendations.

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, athletics expenditures that are outpacing the growth of both athletics revenues and academic expenditures; 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.

Note:  A chart identifying the graduation rates for the NCAA Division I-A football teams participating in the 2004-2005 bowls can be found at


Caption: Knight Commission members meeting in Miami, February 2005

Caption: Knight Commission members meeting in Miami, February 2005.