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March 17, 2011 - U.S. Secretary of Education Backs Knight Commission’s Call for Changing NCAA Basketball Tournament Eligibility Standards and Financial Rewards

New analysis shows basketball teams not meeting minimal academic benchmarks have earned nearly $179 million* for NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament success

Highlights:

  • 10 of 68 men’s basketball teams that competed in the 2011 “March Madness” would be ineligible under the benchmark recommended by the Knight Commission and backed by Secretary Duncan.
  • Of the $409 million the NCAA awarded for basketball success in the past five tournaments, nearly $179 million* or nearly 44 percent of the total, was earned by teams not on track to graduate at least 50 percent of their players.
  • Secretary Duncan endorses the Knight Commission’s recommendations to: a) change the NCAA’s revenue distribution system to provide financial rewards to teams that meet minimal academic standards; and b) require teams to be on track to graduate at least half of their players to be eligible for postseason play.

Washington-(March 17, 2011) – Men’s basketball teams failing to meet minimal academic standards have earned nearly $179 million* from their success in the past five NCAA basketball tournaments, according to an analysis released today by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

Under the NCAA’s revenue distribution plan, each game played in the NCAA basketball tournament in 2011 earns more than $1.4 million for the team’s conference. Of the $409 million distributed under the NCAA’s formula for rewarding performances in the five most recent tournaments, nearly 44 percent was earned by teams with an Academic Progress Rate below 925, meaning that they were not on track to graduate at least 50 percent of their players.

Supporting the Knight Commission’s call for changes, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “It’s time to end rewarding teams millions of dollars for winning basketball games when they are failing to graduate their players. In the era of the ‘million-dollar game,’ I join the Knight Commission in advocating a reward system that recognizes teams that meet minimal academic standards.”

In its June 2010 report, Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values and the Future of College Sports, the Commission called for the NCAA to provide two sets of incentives for academic progress: requiring teams to be on track to graduate 50 percent of their players to be eligible for postseason play and providing financial incentives from postseason distributions for meeting graduation benchmarks. Duncan endorsed both recommendations.

In its call to tie financial rewards more closely to academic values, the Commission specifically recommends that the portion of funds currently rewarded to winning basketball teams be reduced by half and that the remaining funds be used to reward schools that meet the NCAA’s graduation rate benchmarks, and appropriately balance investments in athletics and education.

“The financial rewards for winning cannot continue to far outweigh the penalties for academic failings. The Commission believes tournament slots, and the financial rewards that accompany them, should be reserved for teams that meet legitimate academic standards,” said Knight Commission Co-Chairman R. Gerald Turner, president, Southern Methodist University. “The Commission first advocated for a 50 percent graduation rate benchmark for postseason eligibility in 2001. While the NCAA has taken important first steps, the current standards remain too low.”

If the Commission’s benchmark were in effect this year, 10 tournament teams would not be eligible.

Using the NCAA’s benchmarks designed to track academic success of players, a 925 APR predicts an NCAA graduation success rate of 50 percent. The NCAA adopted the APR in 2004 with the ultimate goal of improving graduation rates among athletes. Teams falling below a 925 APR can be subject to penalties, such as scholarship losses. Teams falling below a 900 APR, which predicts a 40 percent graduation rate, can be subject to a postseason ban only after several consecutive years of posting low academic scores.

The NCAA’s revenue distribution system annually rewards conferences for their teams’ men’s basketball tournament appearances and wins over a rolling six-year period. Only results of the past five tournaments are considered in this analysis since APR scores were first reported following the 2005 tournament.

Three charts are available to provide further details of the Commission's analysis:

  • Institution chart: Revenues earned by each Division I team for their performance in the past five tournaments, showing how much was earned by teams with APRs below 925
  • Conference chart: Revenues earned by each Division I conference for their member teams' performance in the past five tournaments, showing how much was earned by teams with APRs below 925
  • Stacked-bar conference chart: A visual chart showing revenues earned by each Division I conference for their member institutions' performance in the past five tournaments, showing how much was earned by teams with APRs below 925

Restoring the Balance, the third major Knight Commission report, was released in June 2010. To read the report and statements of support from higher education leaders, visit restoringbalance.knightcommission.org.

* This footnote is prompted by a concern from the NCAA that the total amount earned by teams “not on track to graduate more than 50 percent of their players” is actually “not more than 20 percent” of the $409 million awarded for tournament appearances over the time period analyzed.

The Commission’s analysis reflects the amount of money earned by teams over the past five tournaments that fell below the NCAA’s minimal standard of a 925 APR score. The disparity between the Commission’s and the NCAA’s amounts stems from the interpretation of what it means to fall below that minimal standard. This difference is caused by the changing correlations of the Academic Progress Rate (APR) to the NCAA’s own Graduation Success Rate (GSR) during the initial years of the APR implementation, when alterations to the APR formula were made. APR scores below 925 have always predicted Federal Graduation Rates below 50 percent and have moved from predicting a 60 percent NCAA GSR to a 50 percent GSR during the years included in the analysis.

In order to provide a consistent comparison, the Commission is making available data from an additional analysis that uses the NCAA’s GSR metric, which measures graduation success differently than does the federal measure, and is the NCAA’s preferred graduation metric. This analysis provides more definitive data since the GSR computation has not changed during the years of this analysis. Using this constant NCAA metric, nearly 36 percent of the revenue (more than $146 million of the $409 million) earned for appearances in the past five tournaments was earned by teams with NCAA Graduation Success Rates under 50 percent.

Three charts are available to provide further details of the Commission's analysis using the GSR metric:

  • Institution chart: Revenues earned by each Division I team for their performance in the past five tournaments, showing how much was earned by teams with GSRs below 50 percent
  • Conference chart: Revenues earned by each Division I conference for their member teams' performance in the past five tournaments, showing how much was earned by teams with GSRs below 50 percent
  • Stacked-bar conference chart: A visual chart showing revenues earned by each Division I conference for their member institutions' performance in the past five tournaments, showing how much was earned by teams with GSRs below 50

A team GSR under 50 percent means that the team’s four-year cohort graduated less than half their players within a six-year period. This is an important difference from the APR computation, in that it measures actual outcomes as opposed to likely outcomes. The GSR computation allows institutions to exclude athletes who leave their institutions before graduation but are in good academic standing and are eligible athletically.

The Commission conducted these analyses to illustrate how the current revenue distribution formula is skewed to award basketball success without considering a commitment to academic success. The Knight Commission has recommended that the NCAA revenue distribution formula be changed to provide institutions financial incentives for meeting graduation benchmarks. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous, and the Association of Governing Boards have endorsed this recommendation.

About the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics was formed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in October 1989 in response to more than a decade of highly visible scandals in college sports. The goal of the Commission was to promote a reform agenda that emphasized academic values in a climate in which commercialization of college sports often overshadowed the underlying goals of higher education. More information about the Commission’s history including prior reports can be found at www.KnightCommission.org.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote informed and engaged communities and lead to transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.

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