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A poor graduation rate would cost post-season

A panel recommends college sports programs focus on academics.

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 27, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Colleges with low athlete graduation rates should be banned from post-season play, a commission said Tuesday in chiding universities for an emphasis on winning.

Player uniforms also would be stripped of corporate logos and a new coalition would be created to promote tougher academic standards under the plan by the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

"We're not in the entertainment business, nor are we a minor league for professional sports," said the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, president emeritus of Notre Dame and commission co-chairman.

About 42 percent of men's basketball players and 48 percent of football players graduate from the major universities, according to the latest NCAA statistics. The rate is worse for the 114 largest basketball programs, 34 percent.

"Your school is not worthy to be the champion of the country if you're not educating your kids," Hesburgh said.

Schools should have to reach a graduation rate of 50 percent by 2007 to participate in conference playoffs and national tournaments, the panel said.

NCAA president Cedric Dempsey said he had reservations about the threshold and instead, athletes should be required to maintain rates similar to those of other college students.

Dempsey said most of the other commission recommendations tracked ideas the NCAA had been considering or has endorsed, including a prohibition against college sports betting in Nevada.

Bryce Jordan, president emeritus of Penn State, said college sports has gotten more commercial since 1989, when the commission was established to study reforms.

"In some institutions, you win at any cost," said Jordan.

Dick Schultz, former executive director of the NCAA, said the changes are needed but will be opposed by some coaches, athletics directors and fans.

"The average fan probably loves it just the way it is," Schultz said. "You'll never convince the real die-hard fans these things are needed."

The NCAA adopted some commission-proposed reforms in 1996. Hodding Carter III, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a journalism consortium that sponsors the commission, said despite those, "you have big money washing out good sense."

The report also recommended establishing a coalition of college presidents and the American Council on Education to assist the NCAA in carrying out the commission's reform agenda.

"The NCAA cannot independently do what needs to be done," the Knight Commission report said.

The commission also recommended a new distribution formula for television revenue from the men's NCAA Division I basketball tournament that does not take into account victories and the establishment of a watchdog group to monitor the largest of college sports programs.

The commission also recommended the NBA and NFL set up minor leagues.

NCAA and conference officials will meet with several presidents in Chicago this week to discuss the implications of the report. Commission members said they expect to see action within a year on the report's recommendations.

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