Knight Commission Study Finds Low Graduation Rates Among Baseball Teams Participating in the NCAA Championship

Only three of the teams in the upcoming NCAA Super Regionals would be eligible Under Knight Commission’s recommended standard

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 teams that graduate 50 percent of their players. 

If that recommendation were in effect today, only three of the teams remaining in the NCAA Division I men’s baseball championship would be eligible.  Thirteen of the remaining 16 teams (81 percent) failed to graduate 50 percent of the athletes who initially enrolled on scholarship within six years of their enrollment, according to the most recent federally mandated graduation rate data.  Further, two-thirds (67 percent) of all 64 teams that participated in the championship, which began last weekend, would have been ineligible under the commission’s recommended standard.

Critics of the federally mandated standards have argued that the graduation rates do not depict a complete picture because athletes who transfer from an institution in good academic standing count against the team’s rate.  However, athletes who transfer to an institution are reported separately and a review of those rates indicate that more than half of the teams who had incoming transfer students failed to graduate at least 50 percent of them, including 11 of the 16 remaining teams (73 percent).  Baseball athletes tend to transfer more than Division I football and basketball athletes given the more permissive NCAA transfer rules that apply to baseball.  The NCAA’s new “graduation success rate (GSR),” expected to be released this fall for each institution, will track both incoming and outgoing transfer students in the overall rate.

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

  • 10 of the remaining 16 teams (62 percent) failed to graduate at least 50 percent of its incoming freshman and its incoming transfer athletes.
  • 43 of the 61 teams (70 percent) that report graduation rates failed to graduate 50 percent of their incoming freshmen within six years of enrollment.  Further, 30 of the 58 teams (52 percent) that reported having incoming transfer athletes failed to graduate at least 50 percent of those athletes. [Note: Institutions that do not provide athletics scholarships are not required to report graduation rates.  Harvard, U.S. Military Academy, and Quinnipiac did not report graduation rates for its baseball athletes.]
  • 40 of the 43 teams (93 percent) that report graduating less than 50 percent of its incoming freshmen also report rates that were lower than their respective male student bodies.
  • The three highest graduation rates reported were:  Stanford (79 percent); Notre Dame (77 percent); and Miami, Ohio (69 percent). 

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.  By 2007, teams could be ineligible for postseason competition and even harsher sanctions under the new program if they chronically underperform academically. 

The APR, introduced earlier this year by the NCAA, is 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.”  According to NCAA data that includes “squad size adjustments” to an institution’s rate, 17 of the 64 teams that participated in the championship have an APR currently below the minimum standard.  However, NCAA officials have noted that some of the teams’ scores could be adjusted in the future if additional changes are made to quarter-school conversions.  This issue is expected to be considered by the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance in July.

“The low graduation rates for incoming freshmen as well as for incoming transfer athletes are of considerable concern.  We recognize that the higher percentage of baseball players signing professional contracts after their junior year —as well as the high transfer rate in baseball —affect the sport’s graduation rates,” said Thomas K. Hearn Jr., chair of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.  “NCAA research shows that retention improves the chance of graduation so it seems to me that we must look at the transfer rules in baseball more closely if they are causing a significant negative impact on graduation.”

About the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics

The Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics was formed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in October 1989 in response to more than a decade of highly visible scandals in college sports. The goal of the Commission was to recommend a reform agenda that emphasized academic values in an arena where commercialization of college sports often overshadowed the underlying goals of higher education.  The Commission, which presented a series of recommendations in a 1991 report, and A Call to Action in 2001, will continue to monitor and report on progress in increasing presidential control, academic integrity, financial integrity and independent certification of athletics programs. 

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

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