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Thursday, November 9, 2006
NCAA: Athletes graduate at better rate

Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- NCAA president Myles Brand commended college athletes for their academic improvement Thursday but then criticized poor fact-checking by the media and government for failing to report the true story.

Brand said figures released by the NCAA on Thursday prove athletes often outperform their peers in the classroom and called any other notion a "myth."

The latest federal graduation rates show athletes are more likely than the general student body to earn a diploma and that female athletes continue to post higher numbers than their male counterparts.

"One of my most significant frustrations to read time and again is the mistaken myth that student-athletes are not good students," Brand said. "The federal government confirmed something we've known for a long time -- that student-athletes are good students. There really is no excuse for getting this information wrong."

The latest measurements showed incoming athletes from the freshman class of 1999-2000 held a two-point advantage, 63 percent to 61 percent, over those students who did not play sports. Athletes also had a one-point overall increase over last year's figures.

Federal graduation rates are calculated over a six-year period for each incoming freshman class.

Brand blamed the misperception on editorial writers and cited a letter from the House Ways and Means Committee, which is investigating the NCAA's tax-exempt status, to get the numbers right.

"Their claim that student-athletes don't perform well in the classroom is way off, and I think those wrong stories need to get their facts right," he said.

Academic reform has been Brand's top priority since taking over as president in 2003. He presided over a movement that made eligibility standards for student-athletes more rigorous and created more stringent standards for freshmen to play. Brand also pushed for a new, more effective calculation to measure academic success among student-athletes.

Under the NCAA formula, called the Graduation Success Rate, 77 percent of student-athletes graduated. The NCAA's numbers were consistently higher than the federal rates.

The difference between the two calculations is that the federal rate does not include transfer students.

By all measures, Brand likes the progress.

"I'd say the academic achievement of our student-athletes over the last several years is one of our greatest success stories," he said.

Among the more notable findings over a four-year period were that female athletes earned diplomas at a significantly higher rate, 71 percent, than their male counterparts, 56 percent; and that blacks (53 percent) and Hispanics (58 percent) continued to lag behind other ethnicities when earning diplomas.

Whites had the highest federal score at 67 percent.

Brand also cited a three-point increase under the federal guidelines, from 43 to 46 percent, for men's basketball players and a four-point jump, from 38 to 42 percent, among black players.

"Four points in one year is a very serious move upward and it's 5 percent higher than African-American students in the general student body," Brand said.

Four schools -- Boston College, Bucknell, Duke and Northwestern -- graduated at least 90 percent of their athletes over the one-year period. Duke, at 91 percent, had the highest rating. The other three each had 90 percent rates, but Bucknell was the only school of the top four to exceed its overall student body grad rate (88 percent).

The three lowest scores belonged to Florida A&M (19 percent), Texas-Pan American (21 percent) and Lamar (30 percent), although Lamar's total was only one point lower than its overall total.

The three military academies -- Army, Navy and Air Force -- received no one-year scores for their athletes. The report includes only student-athletes receiving scholarships, which the military academies don't have.