Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Reiterates Need to Penalize Programs for Academic Failures

The January 15 New York Times reported on a speech by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to the NCAA at its annual convention in which he stated that college athletic teams which fail to graduate their players should receive stricter penalties than are currently being imposed. Secretary Duncan’s comments echoed the Knight Commission’s 2001 report, A Call to Action, which recommended higher benchmarks than currently required through the NCAA’s Academic Performance Program. The 2001 report included the Commission’s recommendation that the NCAA tie graduation rates to postseason participation.

Duncan specifically recommended that the N.C.A.A. adopt legislation to penalize programs that do not attain a certain graduation rate, perhaps by not permitting them to play in postseason competition. He stated that 25 of the teams in last season’s men’s basketball tournament graduated fewer than 40 percent of their players. “If you can’t graduate two out of five of your players, what are they doing at your university?” he said.

Duncan also stated the need to hold coaches accountable for academic transgressions and the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) 19-year old age-minimum policy and year removed from high school sets young athletes up for failure. “They are simply passing through your institutions on their way to something else. Some of them make it, some of them wash out very, very quickly.” The article noted that many critics of the NBA policy state it essentially forces athletes to attend college when they have no desire to do so and represents a double standard because sports with a large number of black players, such as basketball, impose age restrictions while those with mostly white players, such as hockey and baseball, do not have age standards.

As stated in the NCAA News, current academic-reform policies in Division I impose postseason bans for teams that under-perform academically over time through the Academic Progress Rate. Division I will also soon publish an Academic Progress Rate for coaches that would help secure the accountability Duncan suggests.