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Second Annual Academic Bowl Championship Series Rankings

In a few weeks, the Florida Gators and Oklahoma Sooners will face off on college football's biggest stage in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) National Championship game. Unfortunately, many of the college seniors playing in this game will not be walking across the graduation stage next May. Instead, their schools will revel in the short-term glory of gridiron success, while the players will have to face the long-term consequences of joining the workforce without a college degree.

Higher Ed Watch's second annual Academic BCS rankings show that Florida and Oklahoma are not the only elite football schools doing a dismal job of graduating their players. Only 55 percent of Division I-A football players leave college in six years with a degree -- and that number drops precipitously at most big-time programs that solely focus on counting Ws and Ls instead of As and Bs. It also doesn't take into account the poor quality of the education many are receiving to begin with. Jock majors don't provide job-ready skills.

So who would be contending for the crystal trophy in Miami if the match-ups were determined by academic performance? According to our rankings, it would be a showdown between Boston College and Northwestern University. Meanwhile, this year's top football contenders -- Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, and Alabama -- wouldn't even come close to competing.

The Academic BCS Formula

Higher Ed Watch's Academic BCS formula uses all of the available public data on the academic performance of football players to compile its own ranking of the nation's college teams. Sadly, the number of data points is minimal. The NCAA only releases team graduation rates, disaggregated by race, and Academic Progress Rates (APR), a measure of how players are progressing toward a degree. (If we had anything close to the amount of information available about athletic performance, we might get some meaningful indicators that explain why players aren't graduating, and whether their degrees actually mean something.)

The formula starts with the team's most recent federal graduation rate, which includes four classes of players who entered college between 1998 and 2001 and graduated within six years of initial enrollment. Then, each team gains or loses points based on (A) the gap between the team's graduation rate and the overall school's graduation rate and (B) the gap between the team's black-white player graduation rate disparity and the overall school's disparity. Finally, the team gains or loses points if its Academic Progress Rate exceeds or falls below the Division I-A median. For more detailed information on the formula, see last year's blog post and this comprehensive explanation. For all of the data from this year and last year, click here.

The 2008 Winners and Losers

Boston College owned the competition for the second consecutive year, taking the top spot in the Academic BCS rankings. But two Big Ten schools, Northwestern and Penn State, gave the Eagles a closer run for their money than last year's second and third place teams. With the highest graduation rates in the rankings (88, 78, and 75 percent, respectively) and Academic Progress Rates in the 80th to 90th percentile of all Division I-A teams, these three schools are models of academic and athletic success.

At the other end of the rankings, Michigan State and Georgia Tech join last year's bottom-feeders, Texas and Oregon, as the worst performers. Of the top five teams in the final football BCS rankings, Florida comes in with the lowest graduation rate of 36 percent, while Oregon has the lowest APR. Oregon also has a shocking 41 percent disparity between the graduation rates of its white and black players -- far and away the largest gap of the polled teams.

In general, the Academic BCS scores were slightly higher than last year -- hopefully a sign that teams are paying more attention to the student part of student-athlete. The two most-improved schools are Brigham Young and Ohio State, which jumped by nearly 12 and 10 points respectively. The Buckeyes, however, still have a long way to go to join the elite academic football teams: Ohio State graduates only 49 percent of its football players and has a black-white graduation rate of 32 percentage points.

Unfortunately, not all of the teams saw an improvement in their scores from last year. Two low-performing teams, Florida and the University of Southern California, both scored even lower this year, dropping five and six spots, respectively, in the Academic BCS rankings. Unfortunately, these teams continue to sacrifice academic achievement for football success. They seem content using their players as semi-professional athletes in order to remain in the national spotlight, instead of supporting them as students progressing toward a degree.

The Moral of the Story

Every year, college football fans get caught up in some "major" controversy with the BCS rankings. They spend hours talking about obscure statistics and cursing computer formulas. This year, it was Oklahoma and Texas fans battling it out for the right to play in the Big 12 and National Championship games. Texas fans were devastated when they lost the rankings fight.

But the real tragedy for this team is that only 40 percent of its players, and only 27 percent of its black players, will graduate. Texas' football players put the University on the national stage. And what do they get in return? Besides the precious few that will make it to the NFL, most will leave school without a degree and with few career prospects.

Teams like Boston College and Northwestern show that it is possible to field a competitive team with true student-athletes. But without real pressure from the NCAA and other outside sources to graduate football players with meaningful degrees, the top teams will continue to game the system. And college football will continue down the slippery slope of professionalization and commercialization. It's a win-win situation for almost everyone. Except, of course, for the large number of players who fail to graduate and never make it to the NFL. They will continue to bear the burden of their teams' success.

Ben Miller contributed data to this piece.

Correction: Due to a data error, this piece originally included Florida State in the rankings instead of Pittsburgh. The Panthers have a score of 54, putting them 11th in the rankings.

Higher Ed Watch Academic BCS Formula 200833 KB
Academic BCS Data41.5 KB


This is so extremely

This is so extremely unfortunate. How could these schools let this happen? What a shame.

What about individual

What about individual responsibility? The athletes, instead of paying tuition, play football for an education. I, as a regular student, manage to do well despite the burden of tuition and fees, and this is without the special study halls and tutors that the football players are pampered with. If the players want to graduate, they can. Some even end up as Rhodes Scholars (Florida State's Myron Rolle). If they choose not to graduate, that is their choice, not the institution's.

Why is Florida State in this

Why is Florida State in this listing and Pitt not? Florida State isn't in the BCS Top 25, Pitt is.

Also, I have to question some of your calculations. Texas Tech was just recently announced as having the highest graduation rate in the Big 12 for the period you are using, 79%.

Here is the link:


I really don't understand your calculations. If Column C is the % of football players who graduate and column D is the percentage of the school that graduates, it seems to me that in your calculations you are penalizing teams that graduate a higher % of football players than the rest of the school does.

Texas Tech's Federal

Texas Tech's Federal Graduation rate is NOT 79%. That is the Graduation Success Rate. Maybe that is why you don't understand the calculations!


re: Florida State You're right in that regard. When I was putting the data together I accidentally deleted the wrong line and so took out Pittsburgh when I meant to remove Florida State. The data have been corrected. Pittsburgh comes in 11th.

re: Texas Tech The figure you are looking at is not the federal graduation rate, which this ranking uses, but the GSR. You are correct the GSR is 79%, but we couldn't use it for this purpose because there is no comparable figure that is also provided for the school's overall student body. This would have made it impossible to compare the graduation gaps between the team with those in the school overall. Thanks for reading and I apologize for the Pitt omission.

Thanks for your

Thanks for your reply.

However, I have to take issue with the way you calculate things.

I look at Texas Tech. Their football graduation rate is higher than the overall school. Their white and black football player rate are both higher than the overall school. But they are being punished in the ranking because they have a higher graduation rate for white football players. It doesn't make sense.

Look at Oklahoma State. Their football players graduate at a rate lower than the overall school. Their white players graduate at a rate lower than the overall rate of the school. Yet they have a higher rating than Texas Tech even prior to using the APR difference.

It doesn't make sense that Texas Tech graduates their football players higher than the school rate, that both their white and black football players graduate at a higher rate than the overall school rate, but they are rated lower than a school like Oklahoma State whose football players graduate at a rate lower than the overall school and whose white players graduate at a rate lower than the overall school.

You have some serious flaws in the formula that you use.

Response on Formula

So let's run take a closer look at the Texas Tech data. You are correct in that their football graduation rate is higher than the overall school. This difference of 10 percentage points gives them a boost in their final score. At the same time, they have a 30 percentage point differential between their team's white graduation rate and black graduation rate. That's 17 points higher than the difference at the overall school. Now you are correct that effectively this difference is because white players on the football team graduate at a rate that is 21 percentage points higher than the overall white population. But, the black players graduate at a rate that is only 4 percentage points higher than the overall population. This should raise some questions about the program. Why is it that both white and black Texas Tech football players seem to be doing better, yet their white players are doing substantially better?

Finally, it is worth noting that having the team vs. school grad rate is averaged with the white vs. black grad rate. This means that the team is rewarded for having a better overall grad rate than the whole school. The net result is only a 3.5 point decrease in their final score. On the other hand, what really hurts Texas Tech is that they have an APR of 928, which is below the NCAA median of 936. Had they been only at the median score, they would have ended up with 61.5, putting them ninth overall.

So look at Oklahoma State. Their team graduation rate is almost at the same level as the school (57 vs. 58). But they benefit from having a better black grad rate on the team than white (58 vs. 52). That ends up providing them a big boost to their final score (about 21 points since there is a 15 percentage point gap in the black-white grad rate for the school overall).

It may seem unfair that they benefit while their white players graduate at a lower rate, but the fact is there is a big problem in college football with the graduation rates of black players. The average grad rates for the 25 teams in the BCS are 63.48% for white players and just 49.36% for black players. That's a problem when not even half of the black players at the best football schools in the country aren't graduating. And that can't solely be an issue of leaving early for the NFL. There are over 100 players on most squads and only about 250+ NFL draft picks each year—not all of whom make the roster. Those that don't graduate or make it in the NFL end up without a degree or much useful training, which is a problem.

There is a possible, and quite legitimate reason

There is a possible, and quite legitimate alternative here. These elite schools are so good because of that quality of there players, no doubt about that. Because they have better talent, they are more likely to lose players to the NFL before graduation. I wouldn't say that's a bad thing for those players. Just a thought..

If I have read this

If I have read this correctly in a different article about graduation rates they account for those that do leave early to pursue a professional football career so it doesn't effect graduation rates. So if I remember correctly this argument shouldn't matter at all because it doesn't hurt a school's rate

Well, Ben, you just proved my point

Well, Ben, you just proved my point about the bias that is in your calculation. The fact that a school like Texas Tech graduates their white AND black players at a rate higher than the schools overall graduation rate is FAR more important than the fact that Oklahoma State's white and black football players graduate at a rate close to each other.

You talk about a problem about the percentage of black football players that graduate. Except for the fact that Tech's black players, while not up to the standard of white players graduation rates, still graduate at a HIGHER rate than the overall black population of the school does. And in Oklahoma State's instance, their white football players graduate at a level BELOW what the overall white graduation rate is. THAT IS A PROBLEM!! In your calculations, a school like Oklahoma State is being rewarded because their whie football players graduate at about the same rate as black football players, despite the fact that the white ones graduate at a level BELOW what the overall school white average is. That makes no sense at all.

You have put way too much emphasis on the gaps between white and black football players graduations rates, when the emphasis should be on the gaps between the football players graduation rates, by color, versus the overall schools graduation rates by color.

If I was a coach, and I was out recruiting, if I could say that our football players, both white and black, graduate at a rate HIGHER than the overall schools % for white and black students, I guarantee you I would have the interest of a parent. What do you think a black parent cares about more? The gap between white and black football players graduation rates or whether black players graduate at a level higher than what the overall black graduation rate is for the school? How impressed is a white parent going to be if you said to them 'Well, our white and black players have very similar graduation rates, but our white players still graduate at a level below the average of the rest of the whites in school'? That doesn't seem to be much of a selling point to me. Think about that for a while.

Your Scenario

Ok, I just ran the numbers using your scenario in the following way. I kept the overall vs. team disparity and then added in two others: white players on the team vs. white students overall. Black players on the team vs. black students overall. I then took the average of those three figures, which is then substracted from the team grad rate. When you do it this way, 7 of the initial top 10 teams remain there, with some flip flopping between Cinci and Penn State.

Now in the rest of the poll you do have some bigger changes. Ole Miss jumps 5 spots, as does Ohio State. The school with the biggest fall is Virginia Tech, which goes from 10th to 16th. Texas Tech, meanwhile increases its ranking from 12th to 9th, while Oklahoma State falls to 10th from 7th.

But the overarching point still remains. If you look at the overall NCAA D-IA number for this formula, you end up with only 11 schools that are at or above the NCAA figure. And keep in mind that schools like BC, Northwestern, and Cincinnati are all almost or above double that figure . That means that the majority of the top 25 BCS schools are not performing as well as the NCAA figure, and several aren't even coming remotely close. That's a problem and it shows that the football teams that are elite on the field are doing a rather pedestrian job, at best, off the field. 

Well done Ben. Thanks for

Well done Ben. Thanks for taking the time to do that.

Boston College and

Boston College and Northwestern are private schools. Also, you need to take a look at what the grading system is at each school. Each institution's grading system directly influences the APR and the GSR. For example, here is the graduation requirement at Boston College: The requirement for the bachelor's degree in the undergraduate day colleges is the completion with satisfactory cumulative average (at least 1.5 in Carroll School of Management, all others require a minimum average of 1.667) of at least thirty-eight 3-credit courses, or their equivalent, distributed over eight semesters of full-time academic work. If students take 38 three-credit courses at BC, that's a total of 114 credits. At Penn State, you must have a 2.00 GPA as well as complete 120 credits (the minimum number of degree credits) for graduation. Northwestern also requires a 2.00 for graduation. Therefore, this type of ranking is skewed. At Northwestern and Penn State, you could not graduate with a 1.667 GPA.

They are private schools,

They are private schools, it's true. But they did the Top 25 in the BCS rankings, which includes 2 private schools, so that's why they're in there. It may not be "fair" but that's how they did it. And it proves, to me at least, that if you want your student-athlete to be able to find a job if he or she doesn't make it to the pros, then a private school is where you should be looking.

No,just send them to my alma

No,just send them to my alma mater, Penn State. PSU has been this way for many,many years. No. 1 ranked in the country in Metorology, Turfgrass science, Landscape Architecture, Geography, just to name a few. I know, I know, they have only won 2 National Championships in the last 25 years, but since MOST of these student-athletes DON'T go on to play professionally, isn't it nice to know a PUBLIC school can graduate most of its football players?

"So who would be contending

"So who would be contending for the crystal trophy in Tampa if the match-ups were determined by academic performance?" Except the national championship is in Miami, not Tampa. Thats where the Super Bowl is in 09. Just thought I'd point that out


You are correct. The item has been corrected. We apologize for the confusion.

Who cares?

I would rather have a good football team at my college than good academics.

Success with achievement

As a PSU grad and fan I would rather see PSU with a approximate grad rate of 80% and a football success rate of the same 80% year in and year out (with an occasional shot at the national title), then to accept lower academic performance. All in all I think they've done pretty well in that regard.
Perhaps one more stat should be added to the the formula that determines who plays for the national championship (presuming that "they" continue without a true playoff system) and that is academic achievement. I wonder who would be playing for the title then.


Interesting study. But I have to say something about Brigham Young's rankings. it should be noted that something like 69 football players at Brigham young served 2 year missions for their church after their freshman year, making graduating in the six year span much more difficult, as they've only been in school for four of those years since their initial enrollmment. If you were to expand those statistics to include players that graduated within 8 years of initial enrollment, Brigham Young's scores would be significantly higher, probably in the top 5.

what about the quality of the schools?

Northwestern is by almost any measure a better school than Boston College (BC is a fine school, but facts are facts). Furthermore, Northwestern offers none of the jock majors and courses that most schools use to keep their athletes eligible, and that I suspect (but, admittedly, don't know) are available at BC. Therefore, although BC scores higher on this scale, I find NU's score more impressive.

Better than BC?

Maybe in every way except AWESOMENESS.

And this ranking.

Academic BCS

Where's Navy??? If ANY team deserves to be in the National Championship game, it's the Midshipmen!!!

Northwestern is better than BC?!?!

I guess for a pagan or atheist maybe. A few points higher on the SATs is not a ticket to heaven buddy. Ad meiorem Dei gloriam!

Haha, I'm completely kidding. I agree that Northwestern is better academically than BC, but BC (along with USC) is clearly in the top 3 schools, in terms of overall academics, on this list. GTech and Penn State are probably next. You make it seem like Northwestern is Harvard and BC is Chestnut Hill Community College. On Princeton Review their selectivity ratings are 98 and 97, respectively, and NU's median SAT score is 1430 vs. BC's 1380. Not exactly a huge discrepancy.

BC has no athlete majors like Athletic Coaching Education at West Virginia or Agricultural Journalism at Wisconsin (my two favorites). Sociology and Communications are the top two majors for athletes and those are also two of the top majors for the overall student body (Comunications is #1). I agree that they are not exactly biochemistry, but are legit majors nonetheless.

NUFan, I meant no disrespect, just wanted to defend the alma mater. Go Eagles!

Northwestern has a football

Northwestern has a football team?

Not all degrees and schools are created equal.

Georgia Tech is a top 5 public university. It is extremely difficult to graduate from there for anybody. There are no jock majors there. The easiest majors that most of the football players take are business degrees. In most schools the business degrees are among the hardest once you leave the science and math departments.

I know you said you scaled the graduation rates based off of the student body; but the harder/more prestigious the university it becomes more difficult for athletes at a faster rate.

You should do a points based system based on the academic prestige of the university in the work force, and the difficulty of the degree. Ex. A baskey weaving degree from Alabama will get you 2 points for the degree and 4 points for the school. An engineering degree from Stanford may get you 9 points for the degree and 9 points for the school. You then take the total number of points for each student and divide that by the total number of athletes.

So Stanford graduating an athlete with an engineering degree is as good as Alabama graduating athletes with basket weaving degrees.

The fault may not lie in the universities...

The fact that schools with the best athletes have lower scores for their football players is not due simply to them not emphasizing academics WHILE IN college. The problem most likely originates before college.

Jocks will always be jocks and nerds will always be nerds. I'd be willing to bet, on average, that football players in high school also scored below the average student of their high school. The fact of the matter is that these "athlete-students", to be at that level athletically, sometimes choose to value their athleticism higher than their academics. Most value both in order to make it to college, but there are still a large amount that have never valued their academics enough.

So those students that can barely make it into college are getting in, and simply doing what they have always done. In many cases that is not good enough to graduate.

My point is that the problem isn't the colleges inability to stress academics, but also the students themselves, and their high schools.

Why Not Use GSR?

It occurs to me that using the GSR might be more accurate than using the federal graduation rates (if memory serves, the Federal Government has even stopped using these statistics). Big "jock" schools (e.g., Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio State) have numerous players leave the school early, either by way of the NFL draft or transfer for more playing time, and it seems a little short sighted to count this against a school.

The GSR, on the other hand, does not hold the recruiting top athletes against schools (assuming the athlete leaves the school in good academic standing). The calculation cites UF's federal rate as 36% (which I will not argue), but the GSR is 80% (http://www.indystar.com/assets/pdf/BG43310927.PDF), painting a more accurate picture of athlete's graduation success. To further the point, UF's 2008 football team has 13 seniors. All of those seniors will be proud owners of a diploma, 3 of them having earned a master's.

Enjoy reading blog

I really enjoy reading this post. Thank you for your work. In many ways, you have inspired me to create a blog and this post particularly convinces me that the blogsphere is friend of academics.


Shouldn't Vanderbilt be on this list?

What about Clemson??

My nephew got a football scholarship at Clemson, where he started in 2003. He graduated this year with a business degree, and EVERY scholarship player who started with him that year (around 20 players) graduated in 5 years. That was the 1st time ALL the football players in a class graduated in that time span, but other recent classes have had good numbers, too. Could you check them out and see where they would go in your rankings?


Chili Dogg

Follow-up on Clemson

Per Scout.com, Clemson is 4th in the country in graduation rates for football players: http://stanford.scout.com/2/481569.html (behind Navy, Wake Forest, and Notre Dame).

Chili D


I know Vanderbilt is not listed because it's not in the top 25 schools ranked by the BCS but is there a place I can see the rankings for more schools? - I'm specifically interested in Vanderbilt as well as other great academic schools that perhaps don't have outstanding football programs - Ivy league schools for instance.


Rich T

Using Pure Graduation Rates

Using pure graduation rates, as opposed to Graduation Success Rates makes the study flawed, and gives the wrong impression... which is why the NCAA recently started using the GSR to measure schools' academic success in the first place. A pure graduation rate doesn't take transfers or students going pro into account... neither of which is a reflection on the university. For instance, some schools, like UF, will send far more players to the pros (many before they're seniors), and the school has absolutely no control over that. These figures can distort what's actually going on at a school, and the difference in the numbers can be enormous because of that attrition. In UF's case, the pure graduation rate may be 36%, but the graduation success rate (meaning the students who would graduate if they stayed in school, and are in good academic standing) is 68% for football players during that time period.


I wonder how many of these schools offer degrees in the field of "Human kinetics"? Hahaha....um, wait. I think my school does....damn! I always LMAO when reading an article on a player or hear during a game that "so and so" has a 3.90 GPA only to find out later that the player is majoring in Kinesiology. Hugely popular with football and basketball players....a fraud of a degree, though. A fifth grader would get an A+, seriously.

BCS academic ratings

Did you ever consider that some schools might make it easier for their athletes to graduate? This has been going on as long as there has been collegiate athletics.