Court Time v. Class Time: The NCAA Needs to Boost Academics in Big-Time College Sports

An editorial published by the Houston Chronicle endorsed many of the Knight Commission’s recommendations issued in the Restoring the Balance report, and also cited the recent concerns expressed by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about the poor academic performances by many men’s basketball teams. The editorial was published on Sunday, April 3, 2011, during the Final Four championship weekend of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, which is being played at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

The full editorial is accessible here. Comments relating to Secretary Duncan include:

“The dismal academic performances by a large number of teams led U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to call on the NCAA for renewed emphasis on scholastics in sports. He pointed out that 10 of the teams graduated fewer than half their players.

According to Duncan in a recent op-ed, “Colleges and universities need to stop trotting out tired excuses for basketball teams with poor academic records and indefensible disparities in the graduation rates of white and black players.” Kentucky, for example, graduated all of its white players, but only 31 percent of black team members.

Duncan also cited the large tournament payoffs in recent years to schools with substandard academic ratings. Despite the poor ratings, last year the NCAA banned only one men’s team out of more than 6,000 from post-season play for academic failings. That’s hardly the kind of enforcement that will motivate athletic programs to get serious about educating players.

We agree with Duncan that the NCAA needs to enforce tougher academic standards on big-time college sports and end the charade of so-called scholar-athletes who enroll in college with no intention of sticking around more than a year or two because the National Basketball Association will not allow them to enter the league directly from high school. Higher education institutions should not be relegated to the role of farm teams for professional sports.”

Comments which endorse the Knight Commission recommendations include:

… “There are a number of measures the governing board of college sports could take to emphasize the academic side of the equation. The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, has issued a thoughtful set of recommendations that we endorse.

The commission calls on educational institutions to shape their athletic budgets to complement academic missions and values. It also argues that increases in spending on sports should not outpace academic spending.

NCAA financial reports on member institutions should be made public and revamped to improve the accuracy of campus-to-campus comparisons. Athletic teams should maintain at least a 50 percent graduation rate and a score on the Academic Progress Rate index that predicts that result. Schools that do not meet those standards would not be allowed to participate in post-season play.

The commission also recommends reducing the payoffs to winning basketball teams and expanding the revenue stream to teams that meet academic standards as well as an appropriate balance in resource allocations between athletics and education.

The number of staff on athletic teams who are not involved in academic support or student health and safety should be limited, and colleges and universities should consider coaches’ compensation in the context of the academic institutions that employ them rather than the values of professional sports teams. When coaches make more than the chancellors they serve, let alone star professors, the system’s priorities are clearly out of whack.

These are good first steps toward restoring a balance in college athletics between the pursuit of championships and playoff revenue and the mission to educate.

Only a small fraction of players will go on to professional sports careers, and the others shouldn’t wind up with menial jobs when their campus glory days have ended. All student athletes should receive the training and the degrees they’ll need to succeed in life off the court and field.”

The full editorial is accessible here.