NCAA needs to put student before athlete

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Tribune editorial staff

Anyone who has watched the men's college basketball tournament in recent weeks has more than likely seen the commercial from the NCAA stating that out of the thousands of college athletes, most will be turning pro in something else.

Simply put, most student athletes will not make it to the pros and will have to make a living like the rest of us. The message seems to be pretty clear: you go to college to learn a profession or trade, not a sport.

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While this philosophy may hold true for the so-called "minor" sports, such as water polo and field hockey, it does not apply to the "major" sports - namely football and men's basketball.

According to a study published in The Chicago Tribune, if a requirement was in place that mandated participants in the NCAA men's basketball tournament schools to graduate at least half of their athletes, only about a third of this year's teams would have qualified. The newspaper cited a Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics proposal three years ago to limit postseason competition to teams that graduate at least 50 percent of their players.

According to The Tribune, of the 65 teams in the tournament this year, only 21 would have qualified under that rule, down from 22 last year. Just four of the "Sweet 16"

graduated more than half their players.

As we see more and more student athletes bypassing their college eligibility to make an early jump to the pros - in basketball, some young men skip college altogether, this figure will get worse before it gets better.

Talking about academic expectations might not generate as much water-cooler debate as whether UConn, Duke, Georgia Tech or Oklahoma State can win it all in April, but it is more meaningful. A small percentage of these young men will go on to play professionally, so they need something to fall back on when their day in the sun is over.

The NCAA is expected to adopt a plan next month that would push universities to focus more on getting their athletes diplomas. We feel the association needs to make this a priority.