NCAA to distribute millions for academic performance

FILE - A player in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament holds the ball at his side Thursday, March 20, 2014, in San Antonio. (AP File Photo/Eric Gay)
FILE - A player in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament holds the ball at his side Thursday, March 20, 2014, in San Antonio. (AP File Photo/Eric Gay)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA will distribute millions of dollars in March Madness revenue to member schools for the academic performance of its athletes, starting in 2019-20.

The NCAA announced Thursday that the Division I Board of Directors and NCAA Board of Governors approved the change to the revenue distribution model. The money will come from the NCAA’s multimedia rights deal for the men’s basketball tournament.

The NCAA agreed to an eight-year extension of its deal with CBS and Turner earlier this year. The contract now runs through 2032 and pays the NCAA about $1.1 billion per year, an increase of about $330 million annually. For the first six years of the new distribution, 75 percent of the increase in rights fees will be used to create academic distribution units similar to the units that are earned by conferences based on team performance in the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, the association said in its announcement.

After the first six years, the NCAA said, the percentage of growth allocated to the academic unit will equal the percentage applied to all other distributions.

“The creation of an academic distribution unit underscores the NCAA’s commitment to putting its money where its mission is — with students,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement. “We’ve distributed funds to assist schools whose students need help in the classroom, but this is the first time revenue distribution will be determined by a school’s academic achievement. It’s an important moment for us as an Association.”

Academic units will be awarded to schools that earn:

— An overall, single-year, all-sport Academic Progress Rate of 985 or higher. The APR is used to hold schools accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes by measuring eligibility and retention of each player for each academic term.

— An overall all-sport graduation rate of 90 percent or higher.

— A federal graduation rate that is at least 13 percentage points higher than the federal graduation rate of the student body at that school.

“This formula includes enough schools that everyone has a realistic chance of earning the distribution at some point,” said Philip DiStefano, chancellor of the University of Colorado, who co-chaired the working group that conceived the academic unit. “That was part of our goal — to encourage academic improvement without hurting schools with limited resources or those with broad-based admissions standards.”

The amount of money in an academic unit is impossible to precisely project because it will be determined by how many schools qualify. The NCAA projects about 66 percent of the 349 Division I schools will qualify for an academic unit. Based on that, the NCAA estimates a unit could be worth $55,678 in 2019-20 and $111,356 the next year. By 2031-32, the NCAA projects each academic unit could be worth $541,368.

The Knight Commission, a watchdog group that promotes reforms in college athletics that stress academics, said it applauded the NCAA’s decision to reward academic performance with revenue. The commission first called for a similar policy 15 years ago.

“It’s especially gratifying, in my final months on the commission, to see the NCAA take this game-changing step to place a higher value on education in college athletics,” said former University System of Maryland Chancellor Brit Kirwan, who is the outgoing Knight Commission chairman. “It is critical to align the incentives in college sports with educational values.”