Local News

UNC's Friday backs plan to emphasize student over athlete

Posted March 18, 2010 4:35 p.m. EDT
Updated March 19, 2010 5:28 a.m. EDT

— The former president of the University of North Carolina system offered wholehearted support Thursday for a proposal that would require a minimum graduation rate for Division I college basketball programs to qualify for postseason play.

William C. Friday, who was also a founding chairman of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, said the commission recommended something similar 10 years ago.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan offered a plan Wednesday that would bar teams from the NCAA Tournament if they fail to graduate 40 percent of their players.

Were the same criteria in place, a dozen teams in the 2010 tournament would be ineligible, based on an annual study from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.

That includes a No. 1 seed, Kentucky, which graduated 31 percent of its players, according to the institute's latest report.

"What this really dramatizes is the fact that there are institutions today enrolling student athletes who have a 10th-grade reading skill, and it's just wrong," Friday said.

"When we take these young people in, we ought to guarantee them a fighting chance to get a college degree rather than exploit them."

The two North Carolina teams in the tournament are among the leaders in terms of graduation rates. Duke graduated 92 percent of men's basketball players; Wake Forest was perfect at 100 percent.

Duke's first-round opponent, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, graduated just 29 percent of players, according to the study.

Neither North Carolina State nor the University of North Carolina Tar Heels qualified for the tournament this season based on their athletic performance. If they had, N.C. State  would only just make the cut-off. The study shows the Wolfpack graduate just 45 percent of men's basketball players. Three-quarters of the players at UNC graduated during the study period.

The NCAA and NBA have come under fire for a system that seems to reward athletes for treating universities as a brief stopover along the way to the pros rather than an academic destination. Under a rule implemented in 2006, the NBA requires that players be a minimum of 19 years old or one year beyond their high school graduation to be eligible for the draft.

The rule essentially forces high-profile players to spend a year in college.

Kentucky freshman guard John Wall, widely believed to be the best high school player in the country during his career at Raleigh's Word of God Academy, is expected to explore his NBA options after the season is over. 

"What is happening, of course, is the institutions are the farm club system for major-league basketball," Friday said.

"It isn't true in baseball and football," Friday said. "If the NBA would agree to that same rule, you'd see a lot of things change."

He urged college presidents and boards of trustees to reclaim a leadership role and back limits on sports programs he called "out of control."

"What we have to do is decide whether or not we're going to stay in the entertainment business," he said. "Are you in two different operations here – intercollegiate sports and running a university – because you can't do both."