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Thursday, March 25, 2004

More on NCAA Graduation Rates: The NCAA tournament always brings a discussion of "student"-athletes and academic performance. The New York Times ran an article outlining the graduation rates of the Sweet 16 schools (only 4 are above 50%) and Gregg Easterbrook wrote an essay voicing his disdain at the current state of affairs. (Hat tip: John Stoner)

I agree that there is a problem, but I am even firmer in my belief that the individual schools should not shoulder the blame. Yes, ultimately the schools are responsible for educating their students and student-athletes, but the NCAA cannot take the high road in this debate. Through its policies, the NCAA allows the exploitation of these student-athletes and the sacrifice of their educations all in the time of better opportunities for others. The money generated this month will fund next year's budget for many non-revenue sports and for entire programs in Division II and Division III. The $6 billion being paid by CBS represents the largest chunk of the NCAA's revenues and the reason that the other divisions can even exist. However, players reaching the Final Four will miss approximately 12-15 days of class this month, due to travel, media days, practices and games. So, how can the NCAA with a straight face decry decreasing academic standards when its own policies cause players to miss more than half their classes in a month?

There are, of course, other sides to this argument. Many other students, athletes and non-athletes, miss class, either due to extracurricular activities or due to general laziness. But from my days at college, I cannot recall any other activity that required such a prolonged absence. Athletes also have access to incredible academic resources, such as private tutors, study halls and breaks on some assignments. But the message sent from the NCAA is clear: you are to play basketball and generate lots of money. And then if you have time, go to class. The message to schools is no less clear -- studying is great, but your players better be at the media session.

If change is going to occur in this area, the NCAA must examine its own policies, and not just blame the individual schools. If this does not happen, the "student" in student-athlete will continue to fade away, until the concept is nothing more than a relic of the past.


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