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Why Are College Baseball Graduation Rates So Low?

Daniel GettingerContributor IDecember 16, 2009

This Article Originally Appeared on Friar Forecast.

In his most recent "Tuesday Morning Quarterback," Gregg Easterbrook blasts big-time college football programs who do little to ensure their athletes graduate with a degree.  

He notes that “90 percent of Division I football players never play a down in the NFL,” yet “in the past two decades, there’s been a race to the bottom, in which many football-factory schools have lowered academic standards for football and men’s basketball, dropping any pretense of education in pursuit of wins.”

Easterbrook points out that success on the field does not necessarily need to negatively correlate with classroom performance: “Cal, Georgia Tech, Navy, Nebraska, Northwestern, Stanford, and TCU—all academics-first colleges where football players are more likely to attend class—are on their way to bowl games. Most of them have been in the top 20 nationally this season, and Georgia Tech and TCU even made BCS bowls.”

In my favorite paragraph of the piece, he also cites the success of academics-first schools in basketball:

The field for last season’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament included Boston College, Butler, Cal, Cornell, Duke, North Carolina, Purdue, UCLA, Villanova and Wake Forest. In the women’s tournament, Cal, Dartmouth, Duke, Georgia Tech, Lehigh, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Stanford, TCU, Villanova and Vanderbilt made it.

Brackets for the men’s Division III basketball playoffs included Amherst, Brandeis, Carnegie Mellon, Claremont McKenna, Middlebury, MIT, RIT and Washington [University] in St. Louis (which repeated as champion ) . In Division III women’s basketball, Amherst, Bowdoin, Brandeis, Rochester and Washington-St. Louis all made it. All of these schools enforce academic standards for athletes.

For years, I have privately bashed the concept of big-time college football and basketball. Many of the athletes barely qualify for acceptance into the schools they play at (and these are already greatly reduced standards), and once there seem to do little but hone their athletic skills.

In August, allegations were levied against the University of Michigan football program by players regarding their time spent practicing. The NCAA allows 20 hours of organized football preparation per week, but the Michigan team far exceeded that total. On Sundays alone, the team reportedly worked for at least nine hours.

Something tells me more than two hours on each of the other non-game days is spent practicing, weight lifting, and watching tape.

What’s sad is that it is highly unlikely Michigan is the only program bending the rules. Even teams that stick within the guidelines for organized practice time almost certainly strongly encourage their players to lift weights and watch film on their own time.

Let's assume the average NCAA football player practices/works out/watches tape for 30 hours over the course of the school week and takes a minimal course load of 12 credit hours. That’s already a 42-hour week. That does not account for surprisingly time-consuming things like walking to class, changing into workout clothes, eating, and oh yeah, completing school assignments and studying.

It's no wonder that the Federal Graduation Rate for NCAA Div. I (FBS) football players is close to 55 percent, and only 51 percent for basketball players. Even if the athletes wanted to, there just doesn’t seem to be enough time for students to go to class, let alone complete homework and adequately prepare for exams.

The saddest part about these numbers is there is no reason it has to be this way. If schools forced coaches to strictly abide by NCAA guidelines, players would no longer have an adequate excuse to fall behind in class.

Furthermore, schools should be incentivizing coaches to graduate close to all of their players. Bonuses based on academic achievement should be as prominent in coaches’ contracts as incentives that reward on-field success. If all schools acted in such a manner, no school would be at a disadvantage relative to the competition.

Sure, the quality of play might decrease a little across big-time college sports, but that is a small price for fans to pay to ensure students actually get educated.

As long as I have been bashing football and basketball for doing a poor job at educating athletes, I have also been applauding Major League Baseball for not forcing high school graduates to attend college. Instead, if they are drafted by a Major League team, athletes can start honing their craft in the Minor Leagues—and get paid for doing so.

Because the option to go straight to professional ball exists, I always just assumed that students who chose to go to college actually took their studies seriously. It turns out that is not the case.

The Federal Graduation Rate for baseball, at about 49 percent, is even lower than for football and basketball.

That is unacceptable. Very few college baseball players are good enough to make it to the Major Leagues. Coaches must commit to educating their student-athletes first and winning games second.

The low graduation rates in college baseball do not seem to get the same publicity as the figures in basketball and football—but they should. By not ensuring their baseball players graduate, institutions whose missions are to educate are failing both the students and society as a whole.

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