si.com Overall graduation rates slightly rise Men's basketball, football and baseball continue to fall INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- An overall increase of 1 percentage point in graduation rates might not seem significant. NCAA president Myles Brand disagrees. For the second straight year, the NCAA released figures showing more than more three-quarters of college athletes, 77 percent, graduate within six years, a slight increase over last year's 76 percent. "One percent is good, very good," Brand said Wednesday when the NCAA released new figures on the graduation success rate. "Most importantly, if you look at all the trends in each subgroup, we're seeing equal or better trend lines." The study included 93,000 Division I athletes, almost all on scholarship, who entered college from 1996 to 1999. All sports, regardless of gender, had higher graduation rates under the NCAA's formula than those calculated under federal guidelines. The difference in the totals is a result of the NCAA now including transfers in graduation rates, something the federal numbers do not take into account. Brand said the distinction is that the federal study misses about 35 percent of athletes, which is why only about 68,000 athletes were included in the federal numbers. This is the second year the NCAA has released its own data. Athletes in 35 sports -- 17 men's and 18 women's -- were evaluated. Graduation among male athletes increased from 69 percent to 70 percent, while female athletes remained at 86 percent for a second year. As usual, men's basketball, football and baseball were the lowest-ranked sports. But NCAA officials even took solace in those numbers, pointing out graduation rates in football have been steadily increasing. "If you look at the year-by-year studies for football and men's basketball over the last five years, we're very pleased with the steady academic performance from '95 to '99," NCAA vice president Kevin Lennon said. Brand attributed the increases to a series of academic reforms that have already been put in place and believes the trend can continue if more academic measures are approved. His goal is to reach 80 percent overall rate in the next five years, a number Brand calls a realistic challenge. "A move from 76 to 77 percent doesn't sound like much, but when you get these high numbers, it is of consequence," he said. "But good enough is never good enough, and I believe we can stretch it even further." Men's basketball again had the worst graduation rate of any sport, 59 percent, but the NCAA number was much higher than the federal figure (45 percent). Baseball and football were the next lowest, with both showing 65 percent of athletes graduate. The federal numbers showed football with a 55 percent graduation rate and baseball at 46 percent. Conversely, 82 percent of women's basketball players graduated, 17 percentage points higher than the federal number. But that was the third lowest rate on the women's side. Like the overall number, football and men's and women's basketball both showed 1 percentage point gains over 2005. Baseball's number held steady. Among The Associated Press' Top 25 football teams, five schools met or exceeded the national average with Notre Dame leading the way at 95 percent. The others were Nebraska at 88 percent, Florida at 80 percent, TCU at 78 percent and Clemson at 77. The NCAA's figure for Florida nearly doubled the 42 percent rate from the federal report. Three of the Top 25 schools had graduation rates below 50 percent. They were Texas (40 percent), Georgia (41) and California (44). Top-ranked Ohio State and Southern California, the 2004 national champion, both came in at 55 percent. Last season's national basketball champion, Florida, received a perfect 100 percent from the NCAA, while last year's women's basketball champion, Maryland, was at 71 percent. "The good news is we are continuing to make overall progress," Brand said. "The trend lines are up and, with a few exceptions, the academic reforms we are continuing to lay, even in sports like football and basketball which historically lag, are showing progress." Sports with the highest percentage of graduates were all on the women's side: fencing, field hockey, gymnastics and skiing all had a 94 percent graduation rate. Women's lacrosse was next at 93 percent, and women's swimming was 91 percent. Only one sport, women's bowling, produced a number lower than the national average -- 70 percent. No men's sport topped 90 percent. The highest rated men's sports were skiing (89 percent), lacrosse (88 percent), fencing (87 percent), gymnastics (86 percent) and water polo (85 percent). Men's ice hockey, men's swimming and men's tennis also topped 80 percent. Eighteen of the sports equaled the national improvement with a 1 percentage point increase over last year. Six sports showed no change. Only four sports -- men's and women's lacrosse, men's water polo and women's bowling had lower graduation rates. Both lacrosse teams dropped by 1 percentage point, while men's water polo and women's bowling each had 2-point decreases. Women's rifle, which improved from 73 percent to 78 percent, had the largest one-year gain. Men's ice hockey and men's skiing were next with 4-point increases followed by wrestling, which went from 66 percent to 69 percent. The NCAA plans to release overall graduation rates for each school later this year.