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NCAA mulls changes in academic standards

For many years, all the NCAA could do was cringe when the graduation rates of Division I men's basketball players were publicized during the NCAA Tournament.

This year's Sweet 16 reflects the problem. The four top-seeded teams -- Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona and Kentucky -- had a graduation rate of zero in the latest report, as did Pittsburgh.

But this year the NCAA is doing more than wringing its hands. As part of its aggressive campaign to improve academic achievement of athletes, the NCAA is forging ahead with a plan that would penalize those schools and teams with poor graduation rates.

As early as 2006, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, Kentucky and Pittsburgh could find themselves ineligible to play in the tournament if their graduation rates don't improve.

"The NCAA must establish a foundation of clear accountability for college sports," Myles Brand, the NCAA's new president, said in a speech earlier this month outlining his priorities.

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Brand, the former president of Indiana University who gained notoriety for firing basketball coach Bob Knight, has made academic reform No. 1 on his agenda. Men's basketball, which has the lowest graduation rate of all sports with 32 percent, is the primary target.

"Under no circumstances can it be acceptable not to graduate any men's basketball player in five years, which unfortunately has recently occurred at 36 Division I schools," Brand said.

Brand's remedy is contained in a five-page letter recently sent to all Division I schools detailing a plan to establish incentives and disincentives tied to academic performance of athletes.

A team that did well might get additional scholarships and more money from the NCAA. Those that did not make the grade could be kept out of postseason tournaments, lose scholarships and have money cut off.

"My advice to those coaches who are concerned that sanctions for poor academic performance will disadvantage their teams is to recruit student-athletes who are academically capable," Brand said.

That's what Marquette does, said athletic director Bill Cords.

"Graduating is an expectation at this university," Cords said. "Our coaches know that, and so do the players they recruit."

Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione is not happy with the zero graduation rate for his school's men's basketball team, but he is not overly concerned, either, in part because of transfers

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The graduation rate used by the NCAA is one mandated by the federal government and does not take into account students who transfer, leave early for the NBA or leave school while in good academic standing.

For example, Castiglione said, two players from the class measured in the latest report graduated, but one had transferred to Boston College, where he got his degree, and the other earned his diploma in the semester following the six-year measuring period.

"Transfers wreak havoc on the numbers. We don't get credit for the kid who gets his degree from Boston College, and neither do they," Castiglione said.

Ted Hutton

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

BOX: They're; not all bad

Men's

; basketball; All All

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; rate stud. athletes

; Duke 100 94 90

; Marquette 100 74; 85

; Butler 75 69; 86

; Kansas 67 56; 62

; Connecticut 50 70; 59

; Notre Dame 50 94; 90

; Syracuse 50 75; 75

; Auburn 35 68; 45

; Maryland 33 65; 68

; Michigan State 33 69; 57

; Wisconsin 33 76; 61

; Arizona 0 55; 44

; Kentucky 0 57; 40

; Oklahoma 0 51; 34

; Pittsburgh 0 62; 51

; Texas 0 70; 56

; Source: 2002 NCAA Graduation Rates Report. The graduation rate is based on a comparison of the number of students who entered college in the 1995-96 school year and the number of those who graduated within six years. For example, if 100 students entered and 60 graduated within six years, the graduation rate is 60 percent.

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