The Knight Commission has a long tradition of serving as the “conscience” for higher education in promoting college sports within the context and mission of our nation’s colleges and universities.

While the Knight Commission has no formal authority, many of its recommendations have influenced major policies at national, conference and institutional levels.

The following demonstrates several key areas of the Knight Commission’s impact on policies, practices, culture and outcomes in college sports.

1. Improved graduation success of student-athletes

  • 90% of Division I athletes earn their degrees

More athletes than ever before are completing their degrees. The Knight Commission released its landmark report in 1991 calling for major academic reforms to improve graduation rates. That same year, the 6-year federal graduation rate for Division I student-athletes was 52%. By 2016, this rate improved to 66%. In 2004, the NCAA began a new measurement system to include transfer athletes in the calculation and to exclude athletes who leave the institution in good academic standing but prior to completing degree requirements. These are significant variations from the federal methodology. Using this adjusted calculation, the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate reached a record-high 90% for the 2021 reporting cycle and maintained that figure for 2022 and again in 2023.

2. Incentives tied to academic success

  • At least 50% of a team’s players must be on track to graduate in order for the team to be eligible for postseason championships.
  • Between 2019 and 2032, more than $1.1 billion will be rewarded to institutions for the academic and graduation success of their teams.
    • In October 2016, the NCAA adopted the Knight Commission’s long-held recommendation that a portion of the NCAA March Madness revenues be used to award money to schools for meeting academic-based criteria. The net result of the phased-in approach for establishing this new fund will slow the growth of money awarded for winning men’s basketball tournament games and—for the first time—incorporate academic rewards for a portion of the money.

3. Greater emphasis on student-athlete well-being and educational experience

A greater percentage of athletics budgets is devoted to athletics scholarships and financial aid through degree completion; athletes have greater health and safety protections; more time off from their sports; and are included in policymaking.

4. Presidential leadership for college sports is embedded in every level of governance

Presidential leadership in shaping policies to guide college sports has been a consistent theme since the Commission’s 1991 report, Keeping Faith with the Student Athlete. As a result of the restructured national governance system in the mid-90s, presidents were able to push through sweeping academic reform legislation that has led to record graduation success rates for college athletes.

For a more complete overview of impact click here.