Time to put education back in front of sports


The NCAA continues to allow too many athletic programs and student athletes to put sports ahead of education. The low standards for education and the constant schemes of academic fraud in the NCAA are making the future of the association look bleak. A recent New York Times article highlights how major U.S. colleges are willing to manipulate the grades of player’s to ensure athletic success.

Every year thousands of the top amateur athletes from around the world, including hundreds of Canadians, attend colleges in the United States to showcase their skills. The NCAA produces more professional athletes than any other amateur sports program in the world. On top of being in the best position to succeed athletically, many of these athletes are given a free education.

A growing concern is education is often put behind athletics. The demands sports put on student athletes is intense. Many sports require five days of practice a week along with individual or team workout sessions and games. The travel schedules on players often interfere with school.

According to current NCAA regulations, athletic teams are required to have only 50 per cent of their players graduate. Should that number fall below 50 they risk losing scholarships. The message that sends is that the NCAA only cares that you have half of your players graduate from college. That sends the wrong message to athletes and schools.

Despite the low standard set by the NCAA, College athletes have a nearly 70 per cent federal graduation rate. That figure may look nice on paper but when you dig deeper there are bigger problems. The leading program most college athletes graduate from is general studies. This does not even qualify as a major and has one of the lowest job success rates in the United States. According to Columbia University, 70 per cent of general studies graduates return to school to further their education. The NCAA will not cover these costs.

The minimum grade point average (GPA) required for Division I NCAA athletes to maintain eligibility is 2.0, according to the NCAA’s information centre. This is the general regulation of the NCAA but it can be raised by the individual school.

A 2.0 GPA is certainly high enough to graduate but is not a high enough standard to hold players accountable. They are called student athletes. That means they are students before athletes. Not everyone who plays in the NCAA will go on to have a professional sporting career so the NCAA needs to ensure that these young men and women are getting a top level education. The minimum grade level should be raised so that athletes can graduate near the top of their class and be given a better opportunity at a career in their field of study.

Even more troubling than the low academic standards the NCAA holds is the fact that schools are willing to cheat and change grades in order to make players eligible. In recent years multiple high profile schools have been caught for academic fraud. Schools such as Michigan, Florida State and North Carolina have all been caught for violating academic regulations.

Schools have been caught in the past for covering up for failed classes as well as making up grades altogether. The NCAA has been reluctant to hand down tough penalties to these programs. CNN recently analyzed 39 separate academic fraud cases since 1990 and said they found a lack of consistency in the way the NCAA handles the cases.

The investigation by CNN discovered not only that there were some high profile cases the NCAA did not pursue at all; there were also cases in which the punishment was not enough for the wrongs committed.

According to CNN, former University of Oklahoma athletics-academic director, Gerald Gurney, said obvious cases of academic fraud were discovered during the investigation. These cases were completely ignored by the NCAA. “We are scratching our heads wondering why,” said Gurney in his interview with CNN.

At the end of the day, it will be up to the NCAA to tighten up academic guidelines. If the NCAA continues to give schools free passes for academic fraud or poor grades then schools will continue to do so. Tougher penalties need to be put in place for violating academic regulations and the minimum grade levels need to be raised for student athletes.

According to the NCAA’s website, it says the purpose of the organization is to govern athletics in a sportsmanlike and fair manner while integrating a high level of education. The higher education is falling short for student athletes. Until the NCAA tightens its standards and regulations for education, schools and athletes will continue to come up short.