How You Play the Game: NCAA Sticks to Academic Standards for Athletes

Ashley Thorne

It’s not whether you win or lose. It’s your GPA.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association blew the whistle last week. It released a report that contained a list of colleges with athletic teams that will face scholarship cuts for poor academic performance. 81 teams will have penalties, and 31 more have been warned.

As part of its academic reform package, the NCAA uses a rubric called an Academic Progress Rate, or APR. It raised the bar from its historical cut score of 900 (which translates approximately to a 45% graduation success rate) to 925 (translating to a graduation success rate of about 60%). 1000 is a perfect score.

In addition to handing out penalties, the NCAA gave public recognition awards to 712 Division I teams with APR scores between 965 and 1000.

Why the red flag throwing? Because “dumb jock” was coined for a reason. When an athlete is recruited to play for college—when he’s there on a scholarship and knows, “I’m here to play football”—what incentive does he have to get his head out of the game? For him, class can be an annoying distraction. He may fumble through his schoolwork, but education is not his goal. He might just as well have skipped college and gone into professional sports, but most professional sports won’t allow it. He has to pretend to go to college first. Of course, many colleges don’t mind. Many coaches are more than willing to enroll athletically-talented but intellectually dim students.

But as complaints mount about the exploitation of these sort-of-student athletes, the NCAA feels pressure to increase the odds that some of them will graduate and perhaps even gain an education.

The NCAA’s current cry of “foul,” is an overdue measure of accountability. The NCAA’s “stickler-for-the-rules” sanctions signal a win for those of us who uphold academic standards, and who believe that the purpose of college really is to get an education.

It’s easy to get lost in the college experience and forget why the institution is there in the first place. Whether with sports, Greek life, or environmental justice volunteer work, distracters from school are all around. We at NAS enjoy sports (we even skateboard around the office) and we like watching college basketball. We would, however, like to see the players graduate having learned something in addition to lay-ups and field goals.

The National Association of Scholars gladly cheers for those who defend student athletes from the dumb jock stereotype. We haven’t mastered handsprings yet, but we can get the crowd pumped.

“When I say ‘study,’ you say ‘hard!’ Study!”
“Goooooooooo STUDY!”

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