Office of the President

College sports are about opportunity. They create opportunity to compete at a high level and the opportunity to learn life skills such as resilience, communication and teamwork. Ultimately, however, they are about the opportunity to earn a college education.

Sixteen percent of NCAA student-athletes are first-generation college students. Of those, many say they would not have attended a four-year college without sports. The $2.9 billion in athletics scholarships awarded annually to students throughout the NCAA plays a key role in relieving a financial burden that might have kept some from pursuing higher education.

College sports help give student-athletes the motivation or chance to go to college. Our job as an Association is to ensure we adequately support these students and enable them to take advantage of the resources and opportunities college has to offer. I am proud that NCAA members have long supported initiatives that push student-athletes toward academic success while encouraging them to embrace the college experience.

The academic reform the Association began 15 years ago, for instance, has become a powerful tool. Since the Graduation Success Rates program was implemented, the rate of graduation for student-athletes has increased dramatically. In Division I, we saw a 12 percent increase, which translates into 19,500 students who might not have completed their degrees without the reforms.

Some segments have seen even greater results. In Division II, graduation rates for Hispanic student-athletes have risen 12 points among men and 16 points for women. In Division III, a remarkable 87 percent of student-athletes graduate. In these last 15 years, we’ve achieved more than our predecessors could have dreamed — and these achievements are directly improving the lives of student-athletes across the nation.

As a lifelong educator, I am proud of these results. Even more encouraging, NCAA members refuse to rest on what they have accomplished and continue to implement reform to improve academics. We raised requirements for incoming freshmen to ensure they have the educational foundation they need to succeed in college. We changed our Division I revenue distribution model to put more weight on how schools are performing academically. We voted to give students more time off from sports so they can take advantage of more educational opportunities available on their campuses. This remarkable success is due to the work of Association leaders and student-athletes making their voices heard, creating conversations and driving change forward.

Graduation is a life-changing achievement that allows these men and women to go on and be successful in whatever profession they choose. We at the campus, conference and national levels must continue to focus our actions on getting students to this important milestone.

Thank you for your hard work so far. I look forward to the continued success we will have as we strive to improve the educational experience for student-athletes, from their first steps onto campus to their last steps across the graduation stage.

Mark Emmert
NCAA President