BOSTON COLLEGE is one of the rare universities that competes on the highest level in sports while still ensuring that its players live up to both words in the phrase “student-athlete.’’ According to a 2010 NCAA report, its graduation rate of 91 percent in football and 88 percent in basketball puts it well ahead of the NCAA averages of 69 and 66, respectively. It is a testament to its dedication to its fundamental mission as an educational institution that Boston College has maintained this academic success while still producing strong teams. However, the coming realignment in college sports will pit BC against other universities whose athletic programs are far less scrupulous about academics.
In this challenging environment, BC should do all it can to persuade other schools that academic achievement matters as much as athletic success.
The six major college athletic conferences are adding and shedding members in an effort to increase competition and create more rivalries, thereby driving up TV revenues and fattening the coffers of the schools with the most popular teams. By contrast, there has been little discussion within the conferences about setting higher standards, particularly related to making sure players maintain appropriate grade-point averages and stay on track to graduate.
This isn’t just a matter of concern for faculty members and deans: The basic integrity of college athletics rests on the idea that student-athletes are receiving an education. Those universities with low graduation rates for athletes are guilty of exploiting their own students for ticket sales and licensing fees. Only a handful of athletes end up in the pros; the rest of them need a credible education to have a successful life beyond the gridiron or field house.
The Atlantic Coast Conference, which Boston College currently competes in, is one of the least sullied of the six major conferences. It includes Duke University and Wake Forest University, which have maintained programs with high graduation rates. This is not to say that the ACC is a purist’s wonderland - it does have the scandal-tainted University of Miami as a member - but it is not considered as rife with corruption as other major conferences. But with ACC expansion, Boston College will now have to compete against schools like Syracuse University, whose basketball team is known for its low graduation rates. BC may have to face the University of Connecticut, which is hoping to join the ACC, as well. UConn won the 2011 men’s basketball championship while under probation for major NCAA recruiting violations.
College athletics has been driven mostly by money for decades. Boston College and some other universities with big-time sports programs have fought successfully against this tide, maintaining their standards despite the manifold temptations of Division I sports. But they can’t do it alone. The NCAA and the conferences have to help. But there hasn’t been nearly enough of it, as the cash continues to roll in.