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ANALYSIS: Football BCS Rankings, if Academics Mattered

Northwestern Football No. 1 in New America's Sixth-Annual BCS Academic Bowl
Published:   December 12, 2012

Washington, DC – The college football Bowl Championship Series rankings have been announced, but what would the list look like ranked instead by the teams' academic achievement? The New America Foundation's Education Policy Program today released its sixth annual BCS Academic Bowl rankings aiming to show just that.

The rankings use information collected by the NCAA — federal graduation rates and academic progress — to track educational success, not in-game performance. New America’s BCS Academic Bowl looks at data from the top 25 teams in the Bowl Championship Series' final standings to rank their academic prowess.

New America’s analysis found:

• Newbie to the list Northwestern University, ranked 20th in the BCS and heading to the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl, claimed the number one spot in New America's academic rankings. Among the reasons for the honor: Northwestern had the highest graduation rate among football players at 90 percent, and showed no disparity in those rates between black and white players.

• BCS No. 1-ranked Notre Dame and No. 2-ranked Alabama — who will face off in the National Championship Game — took the 5th and 7th spots, respectively, in New America's rankings. Notre Dame scored respectably compared to other schools, but was knocked down by schools like Boise State and Northern Illinois, which graduate their football players at a much higher rate than their overall male student population. Alabama graduates its black football players at a much lower rate than its white players, which hurt the school in the rankings.

Florida State, ranked No. 12 in the BCS, finished in last place in New America's rankings, with the only negative score of the group. One area that brought down Florida State’s score significantly is its 67 percentage point disparity in graduation rates between white and black players.

Alex Holt, the program associate in the Education Policy Program who compiled the rankings, said the Academic Bowl rankings aim to show that it is important to remember college athletes are still students and to encourage a larger focus on academics within the NCAA.

 “These athletes are not paid and most will not go to the NFL, so a college degree is their best chance of success, and their only form of compensation,” Holt said. “It is imperative that these schools do at least as well in graduating their football players as they do other students.”

This year's Academic BCS rankings were published yesterday on TIME.com.

A list of this year’s BCS rankings and the rankings from previous years with specific data is available here.

A more detailed explanation of our formula is available here.

For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact Clara Hogan.