Category Archives: Academics

Division II Academic Proposals Need Careful Review

NCAA Division II student-athletes graduated at a 55% rate in the most recent (2012) NCAA report (A student-athlete is counted as graduated if they complete their degree requirements within six years of initial enrollment).  The overall student-body graduation rate for the same time period was 48%.  This seven percentage point difference in favor of the student-athletes is slightly better than the most recent four years combined, so the trend is student-athletes are putting some distance between themselves and the general student-body.

This is good news right?  Apparently not good enough.  This month the Division II Presidents’ Council approved a report from the Academic Task Force recommending a number of changes to the academic requirements for Division II student-athletes.  These changes will go to the membership for a vote at the January 2014 NCAA Convention.  As a whole these recommendations reflect a dramatic change to the standards that, according to the recent numbers, have been working well.

The most significant change is an increase in the number of credit hours required each year to maintain “progress-toward-degree,” or eligibility.  The current rule is a student-athlete must earn 24 credit hours over the course of one academic year; the proposed rule would increase that number to 27. At the same time, the concept of “averaging” would be eliminated.  The Averaging Method says that if, for example, you earn 27 hours your freshman year and 21 your sophomore year, the average of 24 meets the eligibility requirement.  Eliminating that option would mean that same student-athlete would be ineligible due to only passing 21 hours in the most recently completed academic year (three short of the required 24).

There are serious questions I have with this.  First, what problem is Division II attempting to solve?  Graduation rates are significantly better than the general student-body and getting better.  So with everything else going on within the NCAA right now it’s hard to see why this is at the top of the priority list.  My best guess is its not so much trying to solve a problem as it is trying to improve the graduation rates of student-athletes above and beyond what they already are.  That’s a worth cause to be sure, but is withholding student-athletes from competition the best way to promote it?  A quote cited in the NCAA’s own story about these proposals is concerning:

“One, states are increasing(ly) tying a portion of a public university’s appropriation to persistence and graduation rates,” he said. “Those institutions with higher persistence and graduation rates, holding all other factors constant, are provided higher levels of funding than are those institutions with lower persistence and graduation rates.

“Two, components of the rating often utilized to rank universities are persistence and graduation rates.  The higher the rates, holding all other factors constant, the higher the ranking and, presumably, the easier it is to recruit students.” – Pat O’Brien, West Texas A&M University President and President’s Council Chair

It seems borderline outrageous that student-athletes who already graduate at a higher rate than the student body are being threatened with their eligibility for what appears to be more state funding and a better ranking in U.S. News.  The fact universities have leverage over student-athletes they don’t have over any other student shouldn’t be a license to place the entire burden of a campus’ graduation rates on their shoulders.  Are benefits or privileges  being withheld from non student-athletes who don’t pass 27 hours in a year?  Are there increased investments in programs to assist student-athletes in attaining these new standards?  The answer to both questions in most cases is of course no.  The phrase for this in government is “unfunded mandate.”

The other major question I have about these proposals is the financial impact on the student-athletes.  The Division II scholarship model is not like Division I where the number of hours you enroll in is irrelevant.  Many Division II student-athletes are receiving stipends which do not even cover the cost of the 24 credit hour year that satisfies the current rule, let alone the additional hours they will now have to enroll in to satisfy the proposed standards.  Will scholarship funds be increased to cover the new requirements?  I highly doubt it.  Sure if all goes well and the student-athlete graduates in four years instead of four and a half or five they will save some money on the back-end.  But in a month-to-month financial situation many student-athletes won’t be able to afford the additional funds needed to cover the extra hours they must now take each term.

University staff members, coaches and student-athletes should read all the new academic proposals very carefully, and review them with each stakeholder group on campus before voting takes place in January.  Raising academic standards may sound like a reasonable method of improving graduation prospects for student-athletes.  However, I submit that the quickest way to push student-athletes out of school (and thereby negatively affecting the graduation rates) is to remove their ability to compete, and make it less affordable for them to attend.  These proposals have the potential to do both, if they are not complimented with new investment and support in the way of both academic and financial assistance.  And nothing so far suggests that assistance is coming.

Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanielHare.

Does Athletic Success Lead to Academic Failure?


It is no secret that on-field success leads to an increase in national awareness and student applications. Whether it’s a winning season or an upset, America’s obsession with football runs deep.

Blame it on the 24/7 media bombardment or the laziness of today’s college students, but one thing is certain: football glory leads to academic short-comings.

A recent study published in the October issue of American Economic Journal: Applied Economics found a direct correlation between male non-athletes increased partying and decreased studying in the fall semester and the success of their football program.

The study, conducted by University of Oregon researchers Jason M. Lindo, Isaac D. Swensen and Glen R. Waddell, revealed male students dedicate less time to studying and more time to drinking and “risky behaviors” when their collegiate team plays well.

Although the study was conducted at the University of Oregon, the results reflect the attitude of students nationwide. No longer are academics at the forefront of the mind. Now, more and more undecided high school seniors are swayed from one institution to another based on athletic superiority.

A national championship season or a Rose Bowl victory can entice and persuade students to apply and enroll in a college they never expected to attend. But to the horror of parents and university faculty, academics take a back seat to the celebration of athletic success.

Twenty-four percent of males said their study time was reduced “definitely” or “probably” based on the team’s success on the field. Both in absolute terms and relative to females, male grades tend to decrease significantly when the football team succeeds.

Nearly half of the males surveyed admitted to partying more when the team won.

The effects trickle down to female non-student athletes as well. The researchers found that females whose GPA’s improved alongside the success of the football team were less likely to drop out of college following a winning season, although the exact reason for the decrease is unknown.

The study begs the question, “How do you encourage on-field success while maintaining an emphasis on academic excellence?”

Left up to their own devices, students are going to choose the easy route every time. It is up to the schools to teach them that while athletic success is great, education is the key to real-world achievement.

Study Shows Athletic Success Impacts Academics Positively

A recent article in the Journal of Sports Economics co-authored by economists Devin and Jaren Pope has confirmed what many anecdotally believed to be true:  success in Division I men’s basketball or FBS football leads to increased interest from potential high school applicants.  The article, titled “Understanding College Application Decisions: Why College Sports Success Matters”, shows that between 1991 and 2001 the number of SAT scores sent by high school students increased for a 1-2 year period after a school’s men’s basketball team made the NCAA men’s basketball tournament or its football team ended the season in the AP Top 20.  Where students sent SAT scores is used as a proxy for where students actually sent applications.

And, as would be expected, the number of SAT scores received was higher for the schools which were most successful in the basketball tournament or finished higher in the AP football poll.  Schools received 2.2% more SAT scores when their men’s basketball teams made the NCAA tournament, 3.8% more if it made the Sweet 16, 5.7% more if it made the Final Four, and 9% more if it won the national championship.  A top 20 finish for the football team resulted in a 2% increase, a top 10 finish resulted in a 5.2% increase, and a (pre-BCS) national championship resulted in an 11% increase.

Besides proving that successful men’s basketball and football programs do play a part in some high school student’s college decisions, the article bring up another issue:  the allure of maintaining a Division I men’s basketball program and/or a FBS football program.  Most schools are looking for ways to increase their applicant pool and to expand their brand.  If a school is not in Division I for basketball or FBS in football, it is missing out on one of the ways to do these things.

In fact, there may not be an easier way for a school looking to grow enrollment and its brand than through success in men’s basketball and football.  This is demonstrated by one of the most amazing statistics in the Pope’s article: the effect of making it to the Final Four in basketball or the top ten in football is approximately equivalent to the effect of a school improving its academic rank by half (e.g. 100th to 50th or 50th to 25th)!  I have no idea how hard it is for a school to improve its academic rank by half, but I have to assume it’s a difficult task.  In many cases, it may be easier for a school to make its way into the top ten in FBS football than to improve its academic rank by half.

Let’s look at Old Dominion University as an example.  After a 68 year hiatus, ODU football took the field again in 2009.  It played as an independent FCS team during its first two seasons.  In 2011, the ODU football team became a full member of the Colonial Athletic Association football conference.  ODU finished that year second in the CAA (regarded as the SEC of FCS football conferences), hosted and won a FCS playoff game, and finished 10th in the final FCS poll.  All of this was accomplished in three seasons.  And it gained ODU entrance into the FBS (ODU will become a member of Conference USA in 2013), where it has the chance of finishing in the AP top ten.

While there is no guarantee that ODU will ever make the top ten in football, its chances of doing so before it improves its academic rank by half seem good.  We can look to Boise State as an example of what is possible.  Boise State moved up to what is now the FBS in 1996.  It first finished in the AP’s top 10 in 2006, when it was ranked number 5 after its memorable Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma.[1] Boise has finished in the AP top 10 three times since then (2009, 2010, and 2011).  So, it took Boise 10 years to make its way from FBS newbie to top ten finisher.

Can ODU improve its academic ranking by half in ten years?  Not likely.  In the latest US News rankings ODU received a “Rank Not Published” (RNP) designation in the National Universities category, signifying it resides outside of the top 200.  Let’s be generous and assume that ODU’s rank is 201.[2]  That means it would have to improve its ranking to 100 to see the same type of application bump that comes along with a top ten FBS football finish.  Again, I don’t have any data on how quickly a school can improve its academic ranking, but I have to assume it would take longer than 10 years to move from 201 to 100.  Perhaps the Pope brothers can look into this next.


For a look at how the study could predict multi-million losses for Arkansas thanks to their defeat at the hands of Louisiana-Monroe, check out this piece on by founder, Kristi Dosh.

[1] Statue of Liberty, anyone?

[2] This bit of generosity is hard for me.  I played basketball at William and Mary, which is in the CAA with ODU.  Let’s just say that the alumni/fan bases aren’t too fond of each other.

The Butler Way: Winning With Integrity

In 1988 Robert Fulghum announced to the world that by the age of five, he learned everything he really needed to know.  Fulghum’s New York Times Best Selling book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten, includes an essay which begins, “How about some good news for a change?”

In a time where it seems that every major news headline related to NCAA sports and the student-athletes who play them involves some inherent scandal, a quote from that essay brings a dose of reality back to the situation:

“You will continue to read stories of crookedness and corruption. . . Don’t be misled.  They are news because they are the exceptions.”

If there ever was a NCAA member program which demonstrated that the heavily publicized stories of the day regarding corruption amongst NCAA programs are the exception, it would be the Butler University Bulldogs.

Butler painted itself onto the national sports landscape in 2010, when its men’s basketball team’s successful season and run through the NCAA tournament granted the Bulldogs the opportunity to play in the National Championship game against Duke.

“People will be talking for years to come about Butler’s incredible run to the National Championship game in men’s basketball, and we will too.  It was a truly remarkable season with a school-record 33 wins, the first 18-0 conference record in Horizon League history and a school and league-record 25-game winning streak,” noted Butler Athletic Director Barry Collier.

The clock did not strike midnight on the Bulldogs’ Cinderella story after the conclusion of the 2010 National Championship game.  Another successful season for the Bulldogs in 2010-2011 culminated in the Bulldogs facing off against the Connecticut Huskies in the 2011 National Championship game.  Other Bulldogs teams have experienced similar success in their respective sports, as the school has won 26 conference championships in the past decade.

Not only have the Bulldogs experienced success on the court, but also in the classroom.  While its most recent competitor in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship game is unsure whether it will be able to participate in the 2013 Division I Men’s Basketball tournament due to new post-season academic criteria set forth by the NCAA, Butler student-athletes have consistently yielded high academic results.

“As good as our teams were on the field, their performance in the classroom was equally as impressive.  During this year’s men’s basketball Final Four, there was quite a buzz about the fact that members of our men’s basketball team went to class on the day of the National Championship game.  But it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise, considering the importance our coaches and athletes place on academics.  It’s a reason that the Butler men’s basketball team featured two Academic All-Americans, junior Matt Howard and sophomore Gordon Hayward.  They were two out of just 15 Academic All-Americans chosen nationwide!  We also had sophomore Grant Hunter named to the Academic All-America Team in football, junior Conner Burt picked to the Academic All-America squad in men’s soccer, and Andy Baker selected to the Academic All-America team in men’s track/cross country, and we’ve had ten Academic All-Americans in the past three years!  This is an incredible accomplishment for these student-athletes and for our university.  The other nine Horizon League members combined for eight Academic All-Americans last year,” noted  Collier.

In an age when mainstream media questions the integrity of some of the most winning NCAA men’s basketball and football programs daily, how have the Butler Bulldogs maintained integrity on the fields of competition and in the classroom?

Collier is not only Butler’s Athletic Director, but a Butler alumni and former member and coach of the Butler men’s basketball team.  If anyone understands the foundation that Butler’s model of winning is built upon, it is Collier.

“A very significant part of the pride that our community feels about Butler and Butler athletics is because of what our student-athletes demonstrate everyday.  When we think of a model collegiate athletic program, it would be one where student-athletes are accomplished in the classroom, on the fields of competition and are people of high character.  That’s what we have at Butler,” said Collier.

Collier recognizes that the community’s pride toward Butler athletics is largely based upon the well-rounded nature of Butler student-athletes, as student-athletes are equally competitive athletically and academically.  Collier credits Butler’s coaches with allowing this hybrid of success to exist at Butler.

“Our student-athletes’ graduation rates and retention rates are higher than the student body, which is quite high itself.  The key is to establish a value-based program and then stay true to that.  There’s no silver bullet.  There’s no magic potion that allows that to take place.  There’s a philosphy in place.  The coaches that lead our programs fit the model of placing integrity and academic accomplishment at the top of our values and goals,” explained Collier.

In recognizing the role that coaches play in ensuring the integrity of a program, Collier, a former basketball coach himself, pointed out that NCAA coaches who embrace integrity as a core value largely outnumber those coaches whose improprieties make up the bulk of NCAA stories covered by the media.

“There are  probably only a handful of professions that are taking more cheap shots than coaches these days.  I don’t think that’s accurate.  You have many, many, many, coaches who are down in the trenches leading and mentoring student-athletes and programs and recruiting folks that fit the culture.  I see that everyday with our 12 head coaches.  I’m sure it’s the vast majority of coaches out there.  There are always exceptions to that,” said Collier.

The Butler Athletic Department’s mission statement references something it refers to as, “The Butler Way.”

“The Butler Way demands commitment, denies selfishness, accepts reality yet seeks improvement everyday while putting the team above self.”

In an age when college sports fans are desperate to find signs that stories of corrupted NCAA teams are the exception and not the norm, The Butler Way and the Bulldogs who adhere to it serve as a beacon, guiding college sports fans to cheer on a program built upon integrity, to further success.

Making the Grade: NCAA Revenue Distribution and Academic Excellence

Today’s post is part of a three-day series discussing the NCAA Presidential Retreat, in conjunction with Alicia Jessop of Ruling Sports.  For the first piece detailing the fiscal portion of the retreat, click here.  On Friday, Alicia and I will take to our sites to discuss the integrity component of the NCAA Presidential Retreat.

Today, from Ruling Sports…

On August 9 and 10, 2011, NCAA President Mark Emmert summoned 54 Division I university presidents and other NCAA leaders to Indianapolis for a presidential retreat.  The retreat focused on three issues:  “continued expectations for student-athlete academic success, fiscal sustainability in Division I, and fortifying the integrity of the enterprise.”

On the second day of the retreat, participants discussed several key issues related to academics and NCAA student-athletes, including:  raising academic standards of current student-athletes, raising academic requirements for incoming freshmen and two-year college transers, and requiring “appropriate academic performance. . . [from] all participants [of] NCAA championships.”

The common thread of the retreat was that participants seemed committed to implementing thorough reform measures promptly.  As such, the Division I Board of Directors will meet today–one day after the conclusion of the retreat–in Indianapolis and will likely move forward with endorsing stricter academic guidelines.

Click here to continue reading on Ruling Sports.

Can We Measure the Effect of National Championships?

As some of you may know, I’m a graduate of University of Florida’s law school. I was fortunate enough to see Florida win three national titles while I was there: 2006 football, 2006 basketball, and 2007 basketball.

Since I study the business of college sports, I’ve often found myself curious about the effect of a national championship (or three, in this case). Obviously it’s good for the athletic department, but it is my belief that a successful athletic program can boost an entire university.

In reviewing budgets, audited financial statements and admissions profiles for the University of Florida over the past several years, I’ve found some interesting trends. While none of these is wholly attributable to the national championships, I certainly think they played a large role.

We’ll start in the athletic department. The most obvious impact is in game revenue and ticket-related contributions. From 1992 to 1996, football game revenue remained fairly stagnant around $7.5 million. Following Florida’s 1996 national title (and a stadium expansion), game revenue climbed to nearly $10 million by 2000. Then from 2000 to 2004, game revenue again leveled out at around $10 million. However, by 2008, following the Gator’s 2006 national title and Tim Tebow’s 2007 Heisman Trophy, game revenue had exceeded the $15  million mark. That number has continued to climb and is expected to reach $20 million by 2012.

Ticket-related contributions saw a jump from 2002 to 2004 when The Swamp expanded. They saw an even greater rise following the 2006 national championship. In 2002, ticket-related contributions were just over $10 million. By 2008, they passed the $20 million mark and in 2011 they have exceeded $30 million.

Much the same has happened with the basketball program. The years 2005 and 2006 saw basketball game revenue hover at $1.5 million. Following the 2006 national title, game revenue jumped to over $2.5 million. Add another championship in the 2007 season and 2008 game revenue jumped to an all-time high of $3 million.

Ticket-related contributions for basketball also saw significant increases. After remaining stagnant at just over $1 million per year since 2001, ticket-related contributions rose to nearly $1.5 million in 2007, $2 million in 2008, and a high of over $2.75 million in 2009 and 2010.

Another area the national titles impacted was revenues derived from licensing. The Gator logo is surely one of the most recognizable in college athletics today. Indeed, the athletic department expects to receive $4.8 million this year from licensing revenue. From 2004-2006 that number was just $2 million, having only seen modest increases from just over $1.5 million in 2001. National championships have certainly helped those licensing revenues more than double since 2006.

 And it’s not just the athletic department who profits. Like most athletic departments, the University Athletic Association at University of Florida shares licensing revenue with the University. Assistant Athletic Director and Controller, Susan Parrish, tells me they used to share a percentage of licensing revenue with the University. However, the University requested a change in their agreement, as the percentage model caused a great deal of unpredictability. Today, the athletic department shares a set dollar amount with the University each year, as determined by an agreement of the parties.

The benefits to the University don’t stop there. Most of you have heard of the Flutie Effect, which is basically the idea that successful athletic programs can increase applications to universities by measurable percentages. This occurs because the school is televised nationally and becomes a recognizable brand.

Take University of Florida, for example. In 2006, University of Florida received 21,710 applications and both the football and basketball team won national championships. There were 24,040 applications for the fall 2007 class, an increase of 10.73 percent. Before you tell me that there are other reasons for increases, keep reading.

Following the 2007 basketball title and Tim Tebow’s Heisman Trophy, the University received 26,392 applications, an increase of 9.78% over the previous year.

Following the national championships applications rose by much higher percentages than in other years. And this isn’t an isolated phenomenon at Florida. It’s been documented at numerous other schools following athletic success. I have more thoughts on this, but you’ll have to wait for my upcoming book. (I know, I’m such a tease.)

A national championship can have a positive impact on any program, not just an already strong program like University of Florida. I’ve recently been speaking with an executive at a DII university who won a national championship in a sport other than football or basketball this year. This person tells me she’s already seeing the impact this national championship is having at her school. Watch for their story coming soon on!