Winning is a priority in intercolliegate athletics. After the National Collegiate Athletic Association issued warning and penalties earlier this month to 218 Division I sports team that failed to meet academic standards, graduation rates will be of even more importance.

The NCAA reviewed the academic success of athletes on more than 6,000 teams at 329 institutions, and applied an approximate graduate rate of 60 percent as its standard. Of the teams that failed, 174 had scholarships taken away, putting them at a competitive disadvantage in the seasons to come. Those teams include six that played in this year’s men’s basketball championship tournament and two that were in the football Bowl Championship Series last year.

In Texas, teams subject to scholarship penalties included Stephen F. Austin University’s football and women’s basketball, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi baseball, Texas Southern University’s men’s tennis, Texas State University’s football and women’s basketball, University of North Texas’ football and men’s basketball, UT-Arlington’s women’s basketball, UT-El Paso’s men’s basketball, and UT-San Antonio men’s cross country and women’s basketball. A few other teams received warnings.

Meanwhile, Rice University had four programs — all women’s — that had perfect academic progress rates for 2003-2007.

Even though a third of the nation’s Division I schools had at least one team penalized, the message from NCAA President Miles Brand concerning the goal of seeing a “change in behavior” of coaches, athletes and administrators has apparently been heard. Overall academic achievement among college athletes has improved over the past four years, including the three sports where the greatest problems have been found in the past — football, men’s basketball and baseball.

It’s a message that has long been at the forefront of athletic programs such as those in NCAA Division III universities such as Howard Payne, where any scholarships received are academic in nature. But it’s too often not a high priority — if it’s a priority at all — in major college programs. The economics of those programs are such that it’s an easy trap. But the fact remains that most of even big-time college athletic programs will not go on to lucrative professional careers, and their time in college must be used to prepare them for careers outside sports. The NCAA’s actions are a stiff reminder of that.

Brownwood Bulletin