The Drake Group Education Fund (TDGEF) in Washington, DC and Via Livestream Will Host the 2023 Allen Sack National Symposium on April 18


More than HALF of Men’s Scholarship Basketball Players Will Not Graduate Within Six Years


Press Release


On The Field, But Not In Class:
Many Star Athletes Aren’t Graduating College

More than HALF of Men’s Scholarship Basketball Players
Will Not Graduate Within Six Years

Allen Sack National Symposium Will Unite Athletes, Coaches, and Educators 
to Identify Reform Strategies to Improve Graduation Rates Among College Athletes

WASHINGTON, DC — Every year, thousands of elite athletes across the U.S. receive scholarships for higher education while pursuing their dream of playing in a professional sports league. However, the upcoming 2023 Allen Sack National Symposium on April 18, hosted by The Drake Group Education Fund (TDGEF) in Washington, DC and via livestream, sheds light on the overlooked reality: Pressure for athletic—but not academic—excellence has given rise to poor graduation rates among college athletes in revenue sports, and disproportionately affects Black[1]  and other athletes of color.

“The academic promise is being broken,” says Dr. Donna Lopiano, a board member of The Drake Group. “It’s become a daily struggle for these young athletes who are being told not to register for classes that conflict with team meetings and training. They spend so much time training that they are not getting a proper education.” The Drake Group’s mission—to ensure the promise of college athletics is realized for all stakeholders—is only fulfilled if athletes are protected from educational and economic exploitation; discrimination on the basis of sex, race, and gender identification; and physical and mental abuse, says Dr. Lopiano.

As institutions prioritize winning games over education, 52% of all National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Men’s Basketball players, 38% of all Division I Football players, and 38% of all Division I Women’s Basketball players who were full scholarship recipients and required to be full time students did not graduate, according to TDGEF analyses of NCAA and federal data. A disproportionate number of these athletes are minorities. In Division I football, the breakdown is 37% white, 47% black, 12% other races or ethnicities, and 3% unknown. A similar group breakdown is seen in men’s and women’s basketball as well.

“I got to the point where I lost who I was,” recalls Brendan Cole, an athletic director at The Field School and featured symposium speaker who was previously captain of the Hampton University football team. “Coaches’ livelihoods depend on winning games, not so much on students graduating,” he says.

Additional research on NCAA academic metrics by The Drake Group shows more shocking realities. The Drake Group compared averages of Federal Graduation Rates (FGR) of the four-year student body and four-year men’s basketball athletes in 63 universities who award athletic scholarships and reached the Final Four Field in 2019. On the positive side, the men’s basketball FGR in seven universities (Belmont, Colgate, Liberty, Louisville, Montana, North Dakota State, and Virginia Commonwealth) matched or exceeded the student body FGR. But for the remaining 56 Final Four universities in 2019, the men’s basketball FGR was lower—often significantly—than the student body FGR.

  • At 19 universities, one-third or less of the men’s basketball players graduated; FGR ranged from 7% at Murray State to 33% at Baylor, Old Dominion, and Virginia Tech.
  • In four universities—Marquette, Maryland, Oregon, and Virginia Tech—the percentage point difference between student body FGR and men’s basketball FGR was 50 or higher. At Oregon, for instance, 72% of its four-year student body graduated, but only 15% of its four-year men’s basketball players graduated.

The NCAA Division I enterprise generates nearly $16 billion in annual revenue for their athletic programs, but it spends only 18.2% on scholarships—and 1% on medical treatment and benefits for young athletes. The sparse funding of college athletes’ medical care is an unintended inequity for student athletes, who disproportionately come from minority or lower-income backgrounds. They face far higher risks for serious injury than other students, but since the universities, NCAA, and sponsors do not assist with student health coverage costs, the burdens of a surgery and other medical care falls only to the players and their families.

Still, almost all NCAA Division I football and basketball players are recruited with the promise of a college degree and a better chance to become a professional athlete. In truth, fewer than 4% of NCAA Division I draft-eligible football and basketball players are selected each year in the NFL, NBA, or WNBA drafts. Since most university athletes do not join a professional league, those who leave college without graduating are at a significant disadvantage in the workplace.

“If we are going to promise a college scholarship in exchange for athletic talent, then we must provide a real education,” says Mary Willingham, a symposium speaker and former clinical instructor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who authored Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports (2015).

“The glamour of competing as a college athlete obscures an important truth,” adds Mark Hyman, another featured speaker and director of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park. “The pressures and demands have always been great,” he says. “It’s an important time to talk about the academic challenges for college athletes and how their universities should be supporting them.”

Moderated by national award-winning journalists, the upcoming symposium will focus on NCAA Division I male and female athletes. A panel of experts—including coaches, faculty, athletes, legislators, and sports policymakers—will address compromising athletic programs, as well as institutions that compound poor academic performance by placing athletes in less challenging classes and majors. Proposed reforms will target changes in academic oversight and support; reallocating athletics resources; and strengthening higher education commitments by guaranteeing scholarship support through graduation and provision of academic support through an institution’s academic units rather than its athletic department.

Speakers and honorees include US Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ)—who both worked to advance the College Athletes Bill of Rights; The Drake Group Co-Founder Allen Sack; Howard University President Wayne Frederick; former Ohio State and United Football League professional player Maurice Clarett; former award-winning New York Times columnist and current ESPN journalist William Rhoden; University of South Carolina Head Women’s Basketball Coach Dawn Staley; University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport Director Richard Lapchick; award-winning USA Today national sports columnist Christine Brennan; Howard University Swimming and Tennis Director Nicholas Askew; LEAD1 President/CEO The Honorable Tom McMillen, and National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo, among others.

Open to the public, you can learn more about the April 18 symposium—being held at the National Press Club from 9:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. EDT, followed by networking opportunities—through preregistering at

A livestream of the program will also be available here.

Donations to The Drake Group Education Fund can be made at

For press inquiries, please contact Lisa Delpy Neirotti, PhD, at [email protected].

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CONTACT: Donna Lopiano The Drake Group Education Fund (516) 380-1213 [email protected] 

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