Making The Grade in Sports

Here's a score that will take your breath away in this season of March Madness: 44 out of the 65 NCAA schools in this year's men's basketball lineup failed to graduate at least 50 percent of their players in the last four years.

That's two-thirds of those schools failing at their most basic mission of education. As these abysmal results show, the term student-athlete is nearly an oxymoron.

Fortunately, the National Collegiate Athletic Association board recognizes that most athletes in college sports will not turn pro, and that a college degree remains the best preparation for life after sports. When the NCAA board meets next month, it is expected to approve incentives and penalties designed to improve schools' poor graduation rates, especially among basketball and football players.

Generally the plan would phase in a series of penalties for schools that fail to meet an as yet undefined graduation rate. Over the next four academic years, those institutions that miss the target would first be notified, then have their athletic scholarships taken away, and finally be shut out from the postseason tournament.

That's a justifiably severe blow, considering the prestige and the money that flow from each tournament round (more than $750,000 per school in men's basketball).

Already the critics are blowing their whistles, and some complain that the penalties are too soft and too slow. They also worry that institutions will simply come up with more basket weaving courses for stars who ace three-pointers but not their tests.

Considering the massive change these schools will face, the timetable seems right. As for cheating at education requirements, that's a call for better NCAA enforcement, for surely some standards are better than none at all.

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