As the National Collegiate Athlete Association, or NCAA, swings into its March Madness, millions partake in the fun and merriment of ball games. College rivalries heat up, and fans turn up on both TV sets and the box office. Yet a few crusty old men and women bemoan excesses of the NCAA. They cite the low chances a college athlete goes professional, or what they perceive as low college athlete graduation rates. Commentator and Sports Illustrated contributor Frank DeFord routinely complains about low college athlete graduation rates. To be fair, college athlete graduation rates are not low, and are close to parity with overall national college graduation rates. Even if college athlete graduation rates were low, though, bemoaning them is wrong, given that athletics support other academic and research activities for the school.
There are legitimate worries about college athlete graduation rates, for a few administrators and coaches are unscrupulous. One only needs to look at the Penn State Football scandals to realize a militant attitude for winning. If football coaches were so flippant about child welfare, it is reasonable to assume they care less about college football graduation rates.
This concern, while understandable, is misplaced. For one, college athlete graduation rates are near parity or even higher than overall rates. Notre Dame graduates 97 percent of its athletes in four years. Even the team with the lowest four year graduation rate, Oklahoma, was still at 47 percent. Given that a quarter of the general population takes longer than four years, this is not a stretch.
Even if college athletes graduation rates were lower, one could justify it on financial grounds. For many state schools, athletic teams are a cash cow at a time of dwindling state and federal resources. This may suppress college athlete graduation rates, but keeps graduation rates and academic quality elevated for the rest of the school.