Trying to Put the 'Dumb Jock Myth' to Rest

Myles Brand, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, wants to cease the propagation of “the so-called 'dumb jock’ myth,” as he puts it.

October 15, 2008

Myles Brand, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, wants to cease the propagation of “the so-called 'dumb jock’ myth,” as he puts it. Trumpeting new data showing that NCAA Division I athletes are graduating at the highest rates ever -- even as players in high-profile sports such as baseball, football and men's and women's basketball continue to lag -- Brand and other NCAA officials argue that recently adopted and stricter academic accountability rules are steadily sidelining old stereotypes.

The NCAA reports graduation rates for Division I athletes in two ways -- the Department of Education-developed federal rate and an NCAA-developed “Graduation Success Rate.” The GSR, as it is called, was developed by the NCAA to assess long-term academic success at the request of many member colleges who found the federal graduation rates misleading. Unlike the federal figure, the GSR does not penalize institutions for departing transfers who leave in good academic standing; it also counts incoming transfer students and midyear enrollees.

By counting these athletes, the GSR tracks about 28,000 more students than the 72,000 tracked by the federal graduation data. And since they take into account athletes who left their institutions in good standing, GSR percentages are higher than federal graduation rates in virtually all cases. Still, not all athletes who leave in good standing enter another institution. Todd Petr, NCAA managing director of research, said 90 percent of students in good standing who leave college transfer successfully to another institution. Both the federal and the NCAA metrics, however, determine their percentages based on the number of students who graduate within six years of entering college.

New GSR data show that 79 percent of Division I freshman athletes who entered college in 2001 graduated with a bachelor's degree by 2007. This figure is up one percent from last year’s data.

By comparison, the federal graduation rate of those students during the same time period is 64 percent. In addition to this figure being up two percent from last year, the NCAA boasts that this is the highest federal rate ever. As the federal rate is the only method with which to compare athletes to other students -- because no data comparable to the Graduation Success Rate exist -- it shows that two percent more Division I athletes graduate in six years than the 62 percent national average for all students at Division I colleges and universities. When allowing a 10-year window for athletes to complete their degrees, the NCAA notes that its members report a 90 percent graduation rate of athletes. The NCAA did not provide comparable 10-year data for all students.

“We are continuing to make progress on the aspirational goal, which I very much advocate, of an 80 percent GSR,” Brand said during a news conference in which he further detailed some of the statistical improvements in the seven years that the NCAA has used its own metric to determine graduation rates. “The ultimate success, though, is in the lives of the student-athletes themselves. Approximately 4,000 additional student-athletes graduated from college over the past six years because of these increased graduation rates and increased academic performance.”

Female athletes have higher graduation rates than their male counterparts in Division I. Female athletes have a federal graduation rate of 64 percent and a GSR of about 88 percent, while male athletes have a federal graduation rate of 59 percent and a GSR of almost 73 percent. As has long been the case, athletes in the highest-profile sports perform least well. For example, men’s basketball has the lowest graduation rates using both metrics of any college sport, with a 62 percent GSR and a 46 percent federal rate. Second and third worst is Division I football at both levels -- the Football Championship Subdivision and the Football Bowl Subdivision -- with federal rates of 54 and 55 percent and GSRs of 65 and 67 respectively. In addition to this aggregate data, federal and GSR statistics are also available institution by institution and sport by sport.

Below is a chart showing the graduation rates of Division I student-athletes who entered college between 1998 and 2001, in their respective sports:

Sport Graduation Success Rate Federal Rate
Baseball 68% 47%
Basketball (Men's) 62% 46%
Basketball (Women's) 82% 64%
Bowling (Women's) 68% 57%
CC/Track (Men's) 74% 60%
CC/Track (Women's) 84% 70%
Crew/Rowing (Women's) 91% 75%
Fencing (Men's) 86% 78%
Fencing (Women's) 90% 81%
Field Hockey 94% 81%
Football - Bowl Subdivision 67% 55%
Football - Championship Subdivision 65% 54%
Golf (Men's) 79% 61%
Golf (Women's) 87% 71%
Gymnastics (Men's) 86% 70%
Gymnastics (Women's) 95% 85%
Ice Hockey (Men's) 83% 64%
Ice Hockey (Women's) 90% 74%
Lacrosse (Men's) 88% 74%
Lacrosse (Women's) 94% 84%
Rifle (Men's) 80% 60%
Rifle (Women's) 82% 64%
Skiing (Men's) 82% 73%
Skiing (Women's) 96% 73%
Soccer (Men's) 79% 58%
Soccer (Women's) 89% 71%
Softball 86% 70%
Swimming (Men's) 83% 69%
Swimming (Women's) 90% 75%
Tennis (Men's) 83% 64%
Tennis (Women's) 89% 70%
Volleyball (Men's) 83% 69%
Volleyball (Women's) 88% 71%
Water Polo (Men's) 87% 71%
Water Polo (Women's) 86% 76%
Wrestling 72% 54%

Division II graduation rates were also made available Tuesday. Like Division I, Division II uses its own metric to judge graduation rates. The "Academic Success Rate," as it is known, makes the same adjustments for transfer students as the Division I Graduate Success Rate but also includes athletes who do not receive athletically related financial aid. While the federal rate for Division II athletes remained steady at 55 percent, the Academic Success Rate rose two points from last year to 71 percent.

Stephen Jordan, chair of the Division II Presidents Council and president of Metropolitan State College of Denver, pointed out that the federal graduation rate of Division II athletes is nine points higher than that of the overall student body at all of the division's institutions. He said this was important to note given the higher number of institutions that focus on first-generation colleges students and are either open- or modified open-enrollment.

"While we have a focus on athletics, we are a higher education association," Jordan said of the NCAA. "[These figures] dispel the myth that student athletes do not perform well."


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