NCAA: Athletes graduate at higher rate

INDIANAPOLIS -- College athletes are still setting records
and dispelling myths - in the classroom.

Just like the late NCAA President Myles Brand believed they

The NCAA's latest graduation numbers show nearly four out of
five student-athletes earn their diplomas on time, an all-time
high, and federal statistics show athletes are still more likely to
graduate on time than other students.

"The misconception is that NCAA student-athletes are not good
students," interim NCAA President Jim Isch said in a conference
call Wednesday. "The truth, as Myles reminded people, is that they
could perform in the classroom and they outperformed the general
student body in almost every measure."

NCAA statistics show 79 percent of all freshmen entering school
in 2002-03 graduated within six years, matching last year's record
high. The four-class average, for students entering college between
the fall of 1999 and the fall of 2002, also was 79 percent, a 1
percentage point increase over last year's record.

The federal numbers are lower, 64 percent for athletes, but
still 2 percentage points higher than the general student body that
does not have access to all the assistance provided to

Federal statistics do not include the performance of transfer
students. So if an athlete enrolls at one school, then transfers to
another, neither school receives credit if the athlete graduates.

NCAA officials believe the improving numbers can be attributed
to stronger eligibility standards for incoming freshmen and a
greater emphasis on academics during Brand's tenure as president.

"I think everyone understands how much this has changed the
culture on campus and I expect that will continue to be the case in
the future," said Walter Harrison, chairman of the committee on
academic performance. "I think coaches are clearly more aware of
the Academic Progress Rate. They know how it's calculated, and most
importantly they know that they have to do well in the classroom
and stay on track to graduate."

Female athletes outperformed their male counterparts, 88 percent
to 72 percent, and the only women's sport to score lower than 79
percent was bowling (74 percent). Women's basketball came in at 83
percent under NCAA guidelines and 64 percent on the federal report.

The three biggest men's sports -- football, basketball and
baseball -- all failed to top 70 percent in the NCAA report.

Men's basketball and Football Championship Subdivision teams
(formerly Division I-AA) had the lowest rates of any sports, coming
in at 64 percent under NCAA calculations. Basketball players scored
48 percent on the federal report, while FCS athletes were at 54
percent. Baseball came in at 69 percent on the NCAA study, but had
47 percent on the federal report.

Bowl Subdivision teams came in at 67 percent (NCAA) and 55
percent (federal).

"I'm especially pleased with the progress in baseball and men's
basketball," Isch said. "Over the last eight years, baseball is
up 10 points, and basketball is up 5 points. Football is up 3
percentage points in the bowl subdivision."

Of the top 10 teams in the BCS standings, Cincinnati, now fifth
in the standings, was the only school to top 70 percent in both

Texas, which is third in the standings, and Georgia Tech, which
is seventh, had the lowest scores. Both came in at 49 percent
(NCAA) and 41 percent (federal).

And half of the top 10 teams in the BCS standings -- Florida,
Texas, Boise State, Georgia Tech and LSU -- failed to reach 50
percent in the federal report.

But Harrison believes the numbers will increase again next year,
the first time the NCAA will measure the impact of more stringent
eligibility standards that require athletes to accumulate 20
percent of their credits toward graduation each year.

"Next year's rate I think will show progress but even so, I
think this year's numbers show we have made real success,"
Harrison said. "I want to congratulate our student-athletes for
proving the critics wrong."