Washington Three-fourths of the men's basketball teams that have advanced to the Round of 16 in the NCAA men's basketball tournament would have been barred from this year's event because of their low graduation rates if a proposal advocated by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics was adopted.
The panel, which has worked for more than a decade to reform college sports, urged in 2001 that teams failing to graduate at least half of their players be ruled ineligible for postseason play.
Of the 16 teams still in contention for the NCAA championship, only four -- Duke, Kansas University, Vanderbilt and Xavier -- posted graduation rates of 50 percent or better in men's basketball, according to the latest graduation data issued by the NCAA.
Kansas led the bunch, with a 73 percent graduation rate. Duke and Xavier each posted 67 percent rates; Vanderbilt was at 62 percent.
Of the 12 schools that fell short of the 50 percent threshold, seven graduated one-third or fewer of their men's basketball players: Alabama, Alabama-Birmingham, Connecticut, Georgia Tech, Nevada, Oklahoma State and Pittsburgh.
"That kind of record legitimizes the criticism of the university community as creating an entertainment industry and not doing its moral duty toward the students who enroll as student-athletes," said former University of North Carolina president William C. Friday, co-chairman of the Knight Commission. "I view that very seriously."
The figures are based on four years' worth of data, reflecting the scholarship athletes admitted as freshmen from 1993-94 to 1996-97, and allow six years for those students to earn degrees.
The NCAA didn't release graduation rates for every school. Under new federal guidelines designed to protect students' privacy, the NCAA is not permitted to release "campus-specific" data for teams with fewer than three scholarship athletes or fewer than three students who graduate.
NCAA officials agreed, however, to provide the Knight Commission with the range of graduation rates among the teams whose numbers were withheld under the federal guidelines. None was higher than 33 percent. Among all 300-plus Division One men's basketball teams, the average graduation rate was 42 percent. That lags well behind the 57 percent graduation rate for all students at Division One schools.
The NCAA is expected to adopt a proposal next month that would punish schools and teams with histories of poor graduation rates among their scholarship athletes. NCAA officials haven't yet established the minimally acceptable graduation rate, but it's doubtful it will be as high as the 50 percent advocated by the Knight Commission.
While some college administrators argue that athletes' graduation rates should be expected to lag behind those of other students given the number of classes they miss and the time they invest in their sports, others argue that athletes should graduate at higher rates given the extensive academic-support services they receive.