Student Athletes Press for More NCAA Funding

Just a week before the start of the March Madness college basketball tournament, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is confronted with a class-action lawsuit seeking to remove scholarship limits to fund the full cost of going to school for student athletes. Are student-athletes getting the money they need to work and play? Ed Gordon talks to NCAA President Myles Brand.

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ED GORDON, host:

The NCAA basketball tournament, which in known as March Madness, is just around the corner, but the spotlight is already on the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Three former college athletes have filed a class action lawsuit against the sports organization. The litigants want compensation for current and former athletes whose scholarships did not cover all of their college costs.

The NCAA also attracted attention recently when they released figures on the graduation rates of college athletes. Matriculation numbers for African- American athletes still hover around 50 percent, but there are signs of improvement. Myles Brand, President of the NCAA says, he disagrees with the way the class action suit has been handled, but he welcomes change.

Dr. MYLES BRAND (President of the NCAA): Actually, I like the idea of full cost of attendance for school athletes. I think it enables them to focus more on their academic programs, and it gives them an opportunity to be successful. But I have two serious concerns about this lawsuit. The first is that it's only for male basketball players and football players. I think full cost of attendance, if we go in that direction, should be for all student athletes.

The second is I strongly disagree with the approach taken. The NCAA is a membership organization, made up of universities and colleges, and they decide how they are going to spend their resources, and it shouldn't be the courts. And so, while I agree that we should move to full cost of attendance, and some of us in the NCAA do as well, we need to go to the normal process of adjusting those payouts, and I think this lawsuit actually gets in the way of the NCAA being able to adjust in away that works for all students. So, I think it's problematic.

GORDON: For decades, there has been a question of whether or not universities and colleges are being fundamentally fair to these athletes, often who bring in hundreds of millions dollars to the schools, and do not receive in return equal dollars for their efforts. Some suggest that these athletes are simply that. They are not student athletes, they are athletes. What do you say to that?

Mr. BRAND: Well, they are student athletes. It's perfectly permissible to pay for play. It's called professional sports. And as you well know, some student athletes have the ability to go right from high school into professional sports: the NBA, pro golf, pro tennis, other sports, and they do it. But when they come to our college and universities, they are students, and just as in the case of universities, where whatever the source of revenue, wherever it comes from--service courses--becomes redistributed to meet the mission, the academic mission of the institution, however those revenues come in.

Similarly, in sports, the revenues come in, and we, in fact, use it to support minor sports, Olympic sports, women's sports. These are all student athletes, and student is the key word here.

GORDON: If we look at the numbers, and again, something that's been debated for decades, of graduation percentage-wise for college athletes, particularly again, the big two sports, basketball and football, they're roughly 50 percent for African-American males. There are those who would debate with you, very vociferously I think, as to whether or not colleges and universities truly see these young men as students first. You know the arguments that many of them aren't necessarily even prepared for the rigors of a true college education.

Mr. BRAND: You know, there is an untold dramatic story here that I think people are missing. Let me tell it to you. It is really quite dramatic. 1984 was the first year the Student Right to Know Act caused all the institutions to accumulate data. Recently, 1998 is the most recent data we have for graduation rates. Remember, graduation is measured on a six-year interval.

African-American student athletes in 1998 graduated at a 52 percent rate--and here is the dramatic news--17 percent higher than their 1984 counterparts. That is to say there has been a remarkable graduation rate increase during the years, and we are measuring carefully, '84 to '98. In the case of male black athletes, '98, graduated at a rate 48 percent, compared to 33 percent in '84.

Females graduated at a rate of 63 compared to 45 percent, and that goes for every sport. African-American male student athletes in basketball graduate at higher rate than the general African-American male population at our universities, on average. So, it turns out that student athletes are doing better academically, particularly an enormous improvement over this period of time. Now, white student have improved, too, but by far lower percentage points. They've only improved about 7 percentage points.

GORDON: Mr. Brand, are you satisfied with the black male athlete that you receive across the board, in terms of his ability, his readiness to take on higher education? Do you believe the majority of them are prepared for that?

Mr. BRAND: You know, I think the dividing line is not race. I think the dividing line is economic status. Inner city students of all races who come from poor backgrounds, with poor high school preparation struggle in college, whether they're student athletes or not. Now, as bad luck would have it, African-American students are disproportionately represented in that population. But I think it has a lot to do with the preparation of our inner city schools and other poor rural schools.

I think it's the preparation, when there's not enough money at the secondary level, to provide the opportunity for students to succeed. Now, having said that, one of the things that colleges and athletics do in particular is that they provide the additional resources through advising and tutoring and so on, that allows student athletes to be very successful, as I pointed out, more successful than the general student body, relevantly similar groups.

GORDON: Myles Brand, President of the NCAA. We thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. BRAND: My pleasure.

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