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January 6, 2006 - Americans Strongly Support Academic Reforms in College Sports

Knight Commission poll results urge NCAA to preserve academic integrity

Indianapolis, Ind. — Nearly eight out of ten Americans say an athlete’s college experience should be about academics, not sports, according to a new poll conducted for the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics by Widmeyer Research and Polling of Washington, D.C.[1] 

While a majority of Americans polled in the midst of the college bowl season are aware of the NCAA’s reforms to improve the academic performance of college athletes, they say more needs to be done. 

“The message to the NCAA from this poll is: ‘Stay the course but remain diligent,’ ” said Clifton R. Wharton Jr., the commission’s vice chairman and president emeritus of Michigan State University.  “On the eve of its convention, these findings confirm to the NCAA the importance of a financial incentive plan to reward teams for high academic performance and to fully implement its plans to penalize teams that underachieve academically.”  

Four in five Americans (79%) support a policy that would make college teams that fail to graduate at least half of their players ineligible for conference championships or postseason play as recommended by the Knight Commission in its 2001 report A Call to Action: Reconnecting College Sports and Higher Education.  Three in four Americans (74%) also support a policy that rewards institutions with the highest graduation rates and best records of compliance with additional revenues.  This is in keeping with the Commission’s 2001 recommendation that NCAA revenue distribution be changed to consider values such as academic performance.

The Census-balanced and representative telephone poll of 502 American adults, completed in late December 2005, also found the following:

Americans are Favorable to NCAA Academic Reforms

A majority of Americans are aware that the NCAA is implementing policies that will penalize college teams whose athletes do not meet certain academic standards. Nearly all are favorable to these policies:

  • Over half (52%) are aware of the new NCAA policies that will penalize teams that fail to meet certain academic standards.
  • 9 in 10 Americans (89%) are favorable to these policies;  2 in 3 (67%) are VERY favorable.

Although fewer Americans are aware that the NCAA has instituted new policies to improve the graduation rates of athletes at colleges, most (90%) are favorable to these policies.

Americans Want Continued Vigilance, Not Complacency

Although Americans recognize that reforms are under way, they remain concerned about the potentially negative influence of athletics on academics.  The sentiment that college should be about academics and not athletics resonates powerfully with most Americans:

  • 8 in 10 Americans (78%) say an athlete’s college experience should be about academics, not sports.
  • Many more Americans (56%) say that college athletics programs only care about whether athletes are eligible to play, compared to being genuinely concerned about their athletes’ academic performance (35%).
  • 85% of Americans are concerned that colleges accept athletes who have no reasonable chance of graduating.
  • 80% of Americans say it is unfair for colleges to have easier admission standards for athletes than other college students. 
  • 3 in 4 Americans (74%) say that accepting athletes into college who don’t have the same qualifications as other students hurts, NOT helps, the athlete in the long term.   In fact, 4 in 5 Americans agree (82%) – 56% strongly – with the statement: Giving athletes who struggle academically unfair advantages causes them more harm than good.

These are the earliest findings of the Knight Commission’s poll.  More will be released at the Summit on the Collegiate Athlete Experience to be held at George Washington University on Jan. 30, 2006.  Information about the summit and prior Knight Commission reports and releases can be found on www.knightcommission.org.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which underwrites the commission, promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and invests in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities.

For more information, please contact Welch Suggs of the Knight Commission at (404) 771-7753 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .  Suggs and Amy Perko, the commission’s executive director, will be available for comment this weekend at the NCAA Convention in Indianapolis.


[1] Please contact the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics for additional background  information about the poll, which was conducted among 502 American residents 18 years of age and older.   Widmeyer Communications used an RDD (random digit dialing) method to ensure that all results are representative of the U.S. population by demographic variables such as gender, age, income, geography, ethnicity and household composition.  All results can be projected to the adult U.S. population.  The margin of error for the poll is +/- 4.4%.