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Nancy  Madsen
By Nancy Madsen December 30, 2014

Moran says college football players have low graduation rates

U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-8th, is trying to clean up college sports as he finishes his 24-year congressional career.  

Moran, who retires Jan. 3, introduced legislation this fall that would create a commission to look into the policies of the NCAA after myriad college sports scandals. The resolution calls for the panel to make recommendations to improve "the interaction of athletics and academics" on campuses. That includes examining the graduation rates of student athletes, rules restricting athletes’ abilities to earn money, and the wherewithal of universities to finance broad athletic programs.

"The graduation rates of players in the Football Bowl Subdivision are still twenty points below their male campus peers and worsened in the past three years," Moran wrote in a Facebook post.

We’ve already fact-checked two Moran statements about big-time college sports but we thought this was worth a look, too. We gave Moran a True rating for to his claim that only 20 colleges athletic departments generate bottom-line profits. We gave him a Mostly True for his claim that a college coaches is the highest- paid public employee in 40 states.

We’ll start our look at Moran’s statement about graduation rates with a definition of Football Bowl Subdivision -- the term the congressman used to qualify his statement.

There are 1,083 colleges and universities competing in sports that fall under the NCAA’s governance. The Football Bowl subdivision is the top tier of college sports competition, comprised of 123 schools that are eligible to compete in bowl games and have average attendance of at least 15,000 at their home games.

Moran’s spokesman, Thomas Scanlon, said the congressman’s statement was based on 2011 and 2014 reports from the College Sport Research Institute at the University of South Carolina. The institute has published reports on the graduation rates of students and athletes since 2010-11.

The institute analyzes two sets of graduation data -- one from the federal government for all students and one from the NCAA for college athletes -- and adjusts them into comparable statistics. The greatest difference is that the federal graduation rate tracks part-time as well as full-time students. All school athletes are required to carry a full-time load. The institute computes the percentage of athletes and regular students who complete their undergraduate degrees in six years.

The 2011 report compares football players to other male students who started college from 2000 to 2003. The study focused on FBS schools that belong to Power 5 conferences -- the Big XII, Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten and Pac-12.

FBS football players graduated at a rate 17.8 percentage points below other male students -- 55.1 percent for the players compared to 72.9 percent for the others.

The 2014 report compared male students and football players who started college between 2003 and 2006 and found the numbers had not changed dramatically. The athletes graduated at a rate 17.5 percentage points below other male students -- 57.4 percent for the athletes compared to 74.9 percent for the others.

Scanlon acknowledged Moran erred in saying the graduation gap between the football players and other students had widened.

"It’s been pretty static," said Richard M. Southall, director of the institute. "One of the more troubling findings is that the gap for black players at the Power 5 conferences is negative 26 percent while for white players it is negative 7 percent. Football is driven a great deal by African American males at the FBS level and the gaps are very pronounced for black players. The same is true for Division I basketball."

Southall said the demands of playing FBS football are equivalent to having a full time job and leave athletes limited time for study. He said that academics and athletic success have an inverse relationship.

"There’s a strong relationship between athletic success and a greater graduation gap," he said. "This makes sense because the demands on the athletes are greater. For example, for the FBS teams now in the playoff format, they are playing more games and the season takes more time … The demands are greater."

Our ruling

Moran said that FBS football players graduate at a rate 20 points below male students and that it has worsened. Moran is close enough on the graduation rate. But the gap hasn’t gotten worse, it’s pretty much stayed the same.

So Moran gets a Half True.

Our Sources

Representative Jim Moran on Facebook, Nov. 22, 2014, post.

Email from Thomas Scanlon, Moran spokesman, Dec. 2, 2014.

College Sport Research Institute, "2011 Adjusted Graduation Gap Report: NCAA Division I Football," Sept. 1, 2011.

CSRI, "2014 Adjusted Graduation Gap Report: NCAA FBS Football," Oct. 7, 2014.

Athletic Business, "Record NCAA Graduation Rates Don’t Tell The Whole Story," December 2011.

Interview with Dr. Richard M. Southall, director of the CSRI, Dec. 15, 2014.

Emails from Dr. Woody Eckard, professor of economics at University of Colorado Denver, Dec. 16, 17 and 19, 2014.

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Moran says college football players have low graduation rates

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