Knight Commission Study Shows More Than $40 Million Will Be Earned by Bowl Teams with Poor Graduation Rates

Commission continues its call for financial rewards to be tied to academic performance


Graduation rates for many college football teams are still too low, according to members of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, and incentives for athletic rather than academic success continue to grow.

With the release of the NCAA’s new Graduation Success Rate for all NCAA Division I institutions today, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics applauds the association’s continued efforts to improve athletes’ academic performance and to provide more transparency on how teams actually perform.

Of the 56 Division I-A football teams competing in bowl games this holiday season, 11 have both federal graduation rates and Graduation Success Rates below 50 percent. Those teams—including two Bowl Championship Series squads—will earn $43 million for their conferences. That amount dwarfs the NCAA’s proposed $10 million annual fund to reward team academic performance at all 327 Division I institutions.

In its 2001 report, A Call to Action, the Knight Commission called on the NCAA to ban teams with graduation rates of less than 50 percent from bowl games and championship tournaments. The commission also recommended that revenue distribution be based on academic performance and other values, rather than merely winning.

Beginning in 2006-07, the NCAA is planning to penalize teams whose athletes are not doing well in the classroom, and in the future is also considering the $10 million grants program for teams with high or improving graduation rates.

“The NCAA and the Division I Board of Directors need to move forward with both plans,” said Clifton R. Wharton Jr., the commission’s vice chairman and president emeritus of Michigan State University. “The stakes are getting higher each year, and the NCAA needs to resist the calls of those who want to water its standards down.  Regardless of the standard used for graduation rates, the data show that some institutions still have significant problems with graduating their football and basketball athletes.”

“The proposed $10 million annual fund to reward teams with high or improving rates is a small step in the right direction, but too many schools continue to reap financial rewards for postseason participation while failing to educate the athletes who have enabled that success,” said R. Gerald Turner, the commission’s other vice chairman and president of Southern Methodist University.   “For example, this reward proposal represents only 3 percent of the total amount of money being distributed on the basis of athletics success in big-time football and basketball this year.”

The NCAA’s new graduation success rate differs from the federal rate by counting athletes who transfer into a given institution in the overall rate. The new formula also eliminates students who leave college—as transfers, as professionals, or for other reasons—as long as they would have been eligible had they returned.

Additional findings from the Commission’s review of the newly released data:

  • Bowl teams with the highest graduation success rate are the United States Naval Academy (98%), University of Notre Dame (96%), Clemson University (94%), and Northwestern University (92%). However, Clemson’s federal graduation rate was 49%.
  • Of the eight teams participating in the Bowl Championship Series, two, the University of Georgia and the University of Texas at Austin, have a federal graduation rate and graduation success rate of less than 50 percent.

The Knight Commission will host a Summit on the Collegiate Athlete Experience at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 30, 2006.  Information about the summit is available at

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.

Media notes:

To arrange an interview with a Knight Commission member, or for more information on the data included here, please contact Welch Suggs at or at (404) 771-7753.

Following is a chart comparing the federal graduation rate to the graduation success rate for bowl-bound teams and a convenient guide to available academic data for those teams.  This information also is posted on

  • NCAA

    2005-12-19 KCIA Chart – Graduation Rates.pdf