Stanford and Boise State Rule the Academic BCS

Fritz WardContributor IDecember 17, 2010

Andrew Luck:  A Real Scholar Athlete
Andrew Luck: A Real Scholar AthleteEzra Shaw/Getty Images

Boise State fans receive more criticism than fans of any other team, probably because their team, along with TCU, is more of a threat to the BCS system than any other team.

One of the common refrains is, "Why doesn't Boise State join a real conference?" Of course, Boise has tried since 2005 to step up to any conference it can, but realistically, you can't just join a conference; you have to be invited.

And why is Boise not invited to, say, the Pac-10?  Because of academics, the critics claim.

A recent report from Higher Ed Watch, however, shows this is absolute nonsense. It also shows that many of the nation's top football programs get their rankings by doing a disservice to their student-athletes.

The Academic BCS, published by Higher Ed Watch, uses four different academic measures to calculate the academic success of a football athletic program. The most prominent of these measures are graduation rates, which are calculated for the team as a whole as well as various ethnic subgroups, and Academic Progress Rates, or APR, the measure used by the NCAA. The Academic BCS uses the measures to calculate a score from 0 to 100 for programs.

Topping the list is Stanford. The Cardinals have a score of 94—and no wonder. Their student-athletes are actual scholars. Andrew Luck is an architectural engineer who applies his skills to the football field.

Second on the list is Boise State, with a score of 86.7. Despite criticism of the Broncos from the uninformed, this should come as no surprise. Boise State requires the same academic standards of its athletes as it does from the student body at large. No other school with a major football program can make that claim, as they all offer academic exemptions for their football athletes.

Who else is at the top? TCU and Utah, two other non-BCS schools, account for positions No. 3 and 5, while Ohio State is in the No. 4 spot. TCU and Utah will both shortly move to BCS conferences. In the case of Utah, it is taking a step up to the Pac-10, while TCU is taking a step down to the Big East. (In basketball, of course, it will be a step up, but not in football.)

How do conferences as a whole fare? The Pac-10, despite its claim of a strong academic tradition, does very poorly after Stanford. Oregon is ranked No. 21. Their score is a measly 24.7. The top conferences are the Mountain West, Big Ten and WAC. The SEC is at the bottom. South Carolina had a dreadful 13.3 score.

What does this all mean? By acclamation, the best conference in college football is the SEC—but it is by far the weakest academically. The SEC also has the highest disparity between the graduation rates of their white and non-white athletes. The Pac-10, which this season was perceived as the second deepest conference, was also relatively weak academically, despite Stanford's strong showing.

This suggests what many of us already knew: The dirty little secret of college athletics is that, in order to win games, many schools are offering a lot of scholarships to students with no hope of graduation. A small fraction of those students may enjoy a brief NFL career, but the rest generate a lot of revenue for schools and get little in return.

It also suggests that the BCS approach to athletics, which rewards certain conferences and their members just for membership, is not helping student athletes.

Finally, those conference fans who complain that the non-BCS teams don't have enough academics to qualify for inclusion in a BCS conference are just plain wrong. Indeed, Boise State, No. 2, and Nevada, No. 10, may actually be too strong academically for most AQ conferences.