By Michael Marot
The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — College athletes are still setting records and dispelling myths — in the classroom.
Just like the late NCAA President Myles Brand believed they could.
The NCAA’s latest graduation numbers show nearly four out of five student-athletes earn their diplomas on time, an all-time high, and federal statistics show athletes are still more likely to graduate on time than other students.
“The misconception is that NCAA student-athletes are not good students,” interim NCAA President Jim Isch said in a conference call Wednesday. “The truth, as Myles reminded people, is that they could perform in the classroom and they outperformed the general student body in almost every measure.”
NCAA statistics show 79 percent of all freshmen entering school in 2002-03 graduated within six years, matching last year’s record high. The four-class average, for students entering college between the fall of 1999 and the fall of 2002, also was 79 percent, a 1 percentage point increase over last year’s record.
The federal numbers are lower, 64 percent for athletes, but still 2 percentage points higher than the general student body that does not have access to all the assistance provided to student-athletes.
Federal statistics do not include the performance of transfer students. So if an athlete enrolls at one school, then transfers to another, neither school receives credit if the athlete graduates.
NCAA officials believe the improving numbers can be attributed to stronger eligibility standards for incoming freshmen and a greater emphasis on academics during Brand’s tenure as president.
“I think everyone understands how much this has changed the culture on campus and I expect that will continue to be the case in the future,” said Walter Harrison, chairman of the committee on academic performance. “I think coaches are clearly more aware of the Academic Progress Rate. They know how it’s calculated, and most importantly they know that they have to do well in the classroom and stay on track to graduate.”
Female athletes outperformed their male counterparts, 88 percent to 72 percent, and the only women’s sport to score lower than 79 percent was bowling (74 percent). Women’s basketball came in at 83 percent under NCAA guidelines and 64 percent on the federal report.
The three biggest men’s sports — football, basketball and baseball — all failed to top 70 percent in the NCAA report.
Men’s basketball and Football Championship Subdivision teams (formerly Division I-AA) had the lowest rates of any sports, coming in at 64 percent under NCAA calculations. Basketball players scored 48 percent on the federal report, while FCS athletes were at 54 percent. Baseball came in at 69 percent on the NCAA study, but had 47 percent on the federal report.
Bowl Subdivision teams came in at 67 percent (NCAA) and 55 percent (federal).
“I’m especially pleased with the progress in baseball and men’s basketball,” Isch said. “Over the last eight years, baseball is up 10 points, and basketball is up 5 points. Football is up 3 percentage points in the bowl subdivision.”
Of the top 10 teams in the BCS standings, Cincinnati, now fifth in the standings, was the only school to top 70 percent in both reports.
Texas, which is third in the standings, and Georgia Tech, which is seventh, had the lowest scores. Both came in at 49 percent (NCAA) and 41 percent (federal).
And half of the top 10 teams in the BCS standings — Florida, Texas, Boise State, Georgia Tech and LSU — failed to reach 50 percent in the federal report.
But Harrison believes the numbers will increase again next year, the first time the NCAA will measure the impact of more stringent eligibility standards that require athletes to accumulate 20 percent of their credits toward graduation each year.
“Next year’s rate I think will show progress but even so, I think this year’s numbers show we have made real success,” Harrison said. “I want to congratulate our student-athletes for proving the critics wrong.”
On the Net: http://www.ncaa.org