Despite growth in graduation rates among college student athletes overall, basketball and football student-athletes graduate students at a rate 15% lower than their other sports’ counterparts. To improve graduation rates, the NCAA recently announced that its standards would rise starting with this year’s high school freshmen. The NCAA seized on "college preparedness” as a way to improve graduation rates.
Class of 2016 student-athletes will have to complete 16 core courses (English, Math, Natural Sciences, and Humanities) with a 2.300 GPA. Ten of those courses must be finished before that high schooler’s senior year. Those student-athletes who maintain a high school GPA between a 2.000 and 2.300 may be redshirted (allowed to practice and have a scholarship but not allowed to play in games). The standardized test score requirements remained largely unchanged.
While academic preparedness should aid in improving student outcomes, the best indicator of academic success is time spent in the books. Thus, setting standards for "academic preparedness" outcomes without addressing the time pressure on big-time, big-money college student-athletes largely ignores the problem outlined in a recent NCAA study. Male football and basketball players spend over 40 hours per week on average practicing during their season, 25% greater than nearly any other college sport. Is it any wonder they graduate 15% fewer student-athletes? Women’s basketball is the anomaly. They practice about as long as football and male basketball players but have graduation rates competitive with other sports.
Although there are limitations placed on practice times, many schools have found work-arounds that make it nearly impossible for a student to avoid the extra time required by large Division I football and basketball programs. The physical, psychological and emotional toll Division I college basketball and football sports take on young student athletes is a far greater impediment to academic success than their high school coursework and grades. Practice time is also distinguishable from work-study or off-campus jobs that do not require the same level of intensity, attention to detail, and oftentimes rigorous critical thinking and analysis.