March 17 (Bloomberg) -- The National Collegiate Athletic Association should alter its payouts for the men’s basketball tournament to reward schools with higher graduation rates, according to the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.
The commission said in a report that men’s college basketball teams tracking to graduate fewer than 50 percent of their athletes received payouts totaling $179 million for participating in the sport’s postseason tournament the past five seasons. It also recommended that schools that are tracking to graduate less than 50 percent of their team members be barred from competing.
The commission is a non-profit group that includes current and former university presidents whose goal is to emphasize academics in college sports.
The NCAA tournament gets under way in full force today after four games earlier this week.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a former co-captain of the Harvard University men’s basketball team, endorsed the commission’s recommendations.
“It’s time to end rewarding teams millions of dollars for winning basketball games when they are failing to graduate their players,” Duncan said in a news release. “I join the Knight Commission in advocating a reward system that recognizes teams that meet minimal academic standards.”
The $179 million payout represented 44 percent of the total $409 million paid, the Knight Commission said in the statement.
NCAA spokesman Bob Williams said the Knight Commission payout estimates are too high. The governing body estimates that no more than 20 percent of postseason funds are paid to programs tracking to graduate fewer than 50 percent of their athletes.
Better Academic Performance
He said the NCAA also wants better academic performance, especially for teams playing in the postseason.
“Our governance bodies are currently exploring ways to improve academics, particularly related to initial eligibility standards,” Williams said. “This will ensure that students are better prepared to be successful in the classroom when they arrive on campus. We hope to collaborate with the Department of Education to improve college preparation for all students, including those who may become student-athletes.”
The Knight Commission said 10 of the 68 men’s basketball programs in this year’s NCAA tournament would be ineligible under its benchmarks, without identifying the teams.
“While the NCAA has taken important first steps, the current standards remain too low,” said Knight Commission Co-Chairman R. Gerald Turner, the president of Southern Methodist University. “The financial rewards for winning cannot continue to far outweigh the penalties for academic failings.”
The commission first advocated a 50 percent graduation rate benchmark for postseason eligibility in 2001, he said.
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