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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Athletics fall short of college ideals

 •  Ferd Lewis: Graduation rates can't be bottom line for colleges

By Gina Holland
Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Colleges with low athlete graduation rates should be banned from postseason play, a commission said yesterday in chiding universities for an emphasis on winning.

Player uniforms also would be stripped of corporate logos and a new coalition created to promote tougher academic standards under the plan by the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

"We're not in the entertainment business, nor are we a minor league for professional sports," said the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, president emeritus of Notre Dame and commission co-chairman.

About 42 percent of men's basketball players and 48 percent of football players graduate from the major universities, according to the latest NCAA statistics. The rate is lower for the 114 largest basketball programs, 34 percent.

According to an NCAA study in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the University of Hawai'i graduation rate for those who entered college from 1990-91 to 1993-94 was 63 percent for athletes and 54 percent for all students.

"Your school is not worthy to be the champion of the country if you're not educating your kids," Hesburgh said.

The commission wants colleges to graduate at least half the students who play in each sport. Teams with rates lower than that would be barred from conference championships and other postseason games.

NCAA President Cedric Dempsey said he had reservations about the threshold and that, instead, athletes should be required to maintain rates similar to those of other college students.

Dempsey said most of the other commission recommendations tracked ideas the NCCA had been considering or has endorsed, including a prohibition against college sports betting in Nevada.

Bryce Jordan, president emeritus of Penn State, said college sports has gotten more commercial since 1989, when the commission was established to study reforms.

"In some institutions, you win at any cost," said Jordan, whose name is on the basketball arena at Penn State.

Dick Schultz, former executive director of the NCAA, said the changes are needed but will be opposed by some coaches, athletic directors and fans.

"The average fan probably loves it just the way it is," Schultz said. "You'll never convince the real die-hard fans these things are needed."

The NCAA adopted some commission-proposed reforms in 1996. Hodding Carter III, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a journalism consortium that sponsors the commission, said despite those, "you have big money washing out good sense."

The commission proposed the establishment of a group to be called the Coalition of Presidents, which would work with the NCAA board of directors.

The commission also recommended a new distribution formula for television revenue from the men's NCAA Division I basketball tournament that does not take into account victories and the establishment of a watchdog group to monitor the largest of college sports programs.

The commission considered, but did not propose, a prohibition against basketball players dropping out of college to join the NBA. The commission instead recommended that the NBA and NFL set up minor leagues.

The plan was released one day before the NBA draft. Several of the top prospects are high school graduates who opted to skip college.