Education Secretary Asks NCAA Basketball Teams to Improve Academics

Wants 40 percent graduation rate or schools cannot play in postseason.

ByABC News
March 19, 2010, 12:31 PM

March 19, 2010— -- Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has a game-changing idea to improve academics in college basketball. Some of the nation's top-seeded teams would be knocked out of March Madness next year if his rule goes into effect.

Duncan has proposed that the NCAA bar any team from participating in the post-season tournament if they fail to graduate at least 40 percent of their players. Duncan called 40 percent "a low bar" that should be easy for athletic programs to achieve, and he thinks such a rule would immediately improve academic results.

If the rules were in place for this year, 12 teams including top-ranked Kentucky, which graduated only 31 percent of its players, would not be eligible.

The other teams are Arkansas Pine Bluff, Baylor, California, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Maryland, Missouri, New Mexico State, Tennessee and Washington.

Today, Duncan made clear his belief that colleges can do better.

"If you can't graduate two out of five of your players, I just think your priorities are out of whack," Duncan told ABC News. "What it tells me is there is a lack of institutional committment."

Duncan himself was a star on the basketball team at Harvard, and he knows that sport is about a lot more than national championships.

"My father taught me a long time ago that a university has a dual mission, to educate its students and to prepare them for life," he said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters. "If a college fails to educate all of its students, then that university has failed its mission. It's time to start holding coaches and institutions more accountable for the academic outcomes of their athletes."

Duncan based his request on a study of graduation rates for NCAA tournament teams, conducted annually by The Institute for Diversity and Ethnics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. The study, based on data from the NCAA, found that 69 percent of this year's teams graduated at least 50 percent of their student-athletes in recent years, but 12 teams did not meet the 40 percent threshold Duncan is proposing.

"I just don't know why we tolerate those handful of places whos values are not proper," Duncan told ABC News.

An NCAA spokesman told The Associated Press today that a ban based on graduation rates unfairly penalizes current players for graduation rates of students from previous years. The NCAA already imposes academic sanctions on schools that fail to maintain education standards under a formula they call the Academic Progress Rate.

Part of the problem, study author Richard Lapchick believes, is rooted in unrealistic expectations among players for professional success.

"I think a lot of this has to do with the phenomenon of young African-American men, in particular, dreaming the dream that they're going to be able to play professional basketball," Lapchick said.