NCAA focuses on grad rates

Than Tibbetts

If their graduation rates do not improve, several University athletics teams could face significant penalties under a new NCAA graduation-rate policy.

The policy change, which was announced Jan. 10, states that college teams must stay on track to graduate at least half of their student-athletes each year to avoid losing scholarships. The policy is set to take effect in 2006.

If the policy is not met, penalties could include losing scholarships, postseason play eligibility and possibly NCAA membership.

Athletics Director Joel Maturi said the new rules will benefit athletics programs in the long run.

The new policy uses a formula called the “Academic Performance Rate.” Each athlete on scholarship earns two points each semester – one point if he or she stays in school and one if he or she is academically eligible to compete.

Under the new guidelines, each team must have 92.5 percent of its points annually to avoid penalties, Maturi said.

For example, 13 student-athletes receive scholarships on the University’s men’s basketball team, Maturi said. Each year, the athletes can receive a total of 52 points based on the formula. To avoid penalties, the athletes would have to receive at least 49 points in a year.

The team’s score drops when a student-athlete does not return to school or if he or she is academically ineligible.

Penalties are assessed year to year. The old gold standard was graduation rates, which are based on relatively old data, Maturi said.

“This is a much more accurate gauge of what students are doing,” Maturi said.

He added that athletics departments, in general, need to do a better job of retaining students from year to year.

In a statement, NCAA President Myles Brand called the reforms a “strong package” and said the new policy will lead to increased student-athlete graduation rates.

The NCAA will also finalize a “historical penalty structure,” a system that will penalize programs that fail to meet the target graduation rate in consecutive years.

The University ranked last in the Big Ten by graduating

58 percent of its student-

athletes for 2000-03. The University also ranks last in the Big Ten by graduating 52 percent of the overall student population, according to NCAA documents.