US universities have significantly improved the academic performance of their athletes after years of criticism that they were using student athletes merely to help them profit from intercollegiate sports, then discarding them without an education, writes Jon Marcus in Boston.
Athletes at the most competitive universities now have a higher graduation rate than non-athletes - 62 per cent compared with 59 per cent - according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The figure indicates the proportion of students who graduate within six years of enrolment.
NCAA president Myles Brand said the report was "great news". "This illustrates that changes in NCAA minimum standards can have a positive impact on academic performance of student athletes in college," he said.
The changes followed years of abysmally low graduation rates of student athletes, even while universities reaped millions of dollars from television rights to intercollegiate games and tournaments. Many athletes left school when their eligibility to compete expired.
Black athletes continue to graduate at a significantly lower rate than whites. Only 48 per cent of black athletes leave with a degree - Jthat figure has rinse 5 percentage points in the past year, but it is still below average overall graduation rates. Only 38 per cent of black male basketball players graduate.
Stricter academic requirements also appear to be having an impact on the number of black male athletes admitted to universities since 1996. The proportion of basketball and American football players who are black has declined.
Mr Brand said the rising graduation rates of black athletes was "encouraging". However, he also added: "There is still work to be done."
Fifty-two per cent of white male basketball players graduate and 66 per cent of white female basketball players.