Knight Commission Study Finds Nearly Two-thirds of Men’s Basketball Tournament Field Fails Recommended Academic Standard Incentive

MIAMI, Fla. — One of the central recommendations of A Call to Action, the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics’ 2001 report, was that eligibility for postseason participation should be reserved by 2007 for basketball teams that graduate 50 percent of their players. If that recommendation were in effect today, nearly two-thirds (42 of 65) of the men’s tournament field would be ineligible to participate, according to the NCAA’s latest graduation rate report. By comparison, six of the 64 women’s teams would be ineligible under the same standards.

Another key recommendation from A Call to Action was that the NCAA’s revenue distribution plan be revised to reflect values such as improving academic performance and not merely winning. If that plan were revised, it would have a dramatic effect on tournament earnings, which add up over a six-year period to about $1.1 million for each appearance and win. To further illustrate the overriding financial stakes, teams that currently fail to graduate at least 50 percent of their players will earn a minimum of $ 57 million for their respective conferences for their appearances in this year’s men’s tournament.

The Knight Commission was formed in 1989 to recommend a reform agenda that emphasizes academic values in an arena where commercialization of college sports often overshadows the underlying goals of higher education.

The commission’s review of the federally mandated graduation rate report for the most recent four years for which data are available found that:

  • Nearly one-third (20 out of 65) of the men’s teams failed to graduate even 30 percent of their players within six years of initial enrollment while over 15 percent (11 out of 65*) failed to graduate at least 20 percent of their players. Further, two teams failed to graduate a single men’s basketball player over the four-year period reviewed.
  • Ninety percent (57 out of 63) of the women’s teams that reported data graduated at least 50 percent of their players within six years of enrollment.  Of the six teams that did fail to meet this standard, one team failed to graduate 30 percent of its players.
  • The men’s teams participating in the tournament with the highest graduation rates are Bucknell University (100 percent), Utah State University (100 percent), and Stanford University (92 percent).
  • Eight women’s teams participating in the tournament graduated 90 percent or more of their players.  College of the Holy Cross, University of Montana, and Vanderbilt University achieved 100 percent graduation rates.

New NCAA standards taking effect this fall require a team to maintain an academic progress rate (APR) of 925, out of a perfect score of 1,000, to avoid being subject to scholarship reduction penalties. The APR is a new standard introduced by the NCAA this year designed to measure a team’s current academic performance. According to The NCAA News, the minimum APR score of 925 “was selected because it equates to a 50 percent graduation rate.” The commission’s review of the NCAA’s APR data indicates that if the rules were in effect this year, 11 men’s teams and one women’s team participating in the tournaments would be subject to penalties.

Knight Commission Chair and Wake Forest University President Thomas Hearn said, “The Knight Commission has been, from the beginning, consistent in wanting academic success to be tied to athletic success. The commission celebrates these new academic performance standards for placing the academic mission at the forefront of our athletics departments. We believe the APR will serve as a fair measurement to determine scholarship penalties since the rate reflects the priorities and performance of the current athletes and coaching staffs. We look forward to seeing equally demanding standards related to graduation rates established for the next phase of implementation, which will include penalties such as postseason participation bans for underperforming teams.”

Hearn added, “It is important to have significant academic standards for coaches and players to meet to participate in the tournament at a time when each tournament win is worth about $1.1 million to the winning team’s conference.”

The commission will meet again May 23, 2005, in Washington, D.C.

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: New information provided by the NCAA on March 22, 2005 indicates that one team’s score will be adjusted from the information previously released by the NCAA, and that the new score will be above the 925 minimum score when the confidence boundaries are applied.  This new information results in changing the number of tournament teams that would have been subject to penalty to 10 instead of 11.