DeKALB – If the top 25 college football teams in the country battled in the classroom instead of on the gridiron, it would be an all-Illinois battle in the national championship, according to one academic study.
Northern Illinois University was second only to Northwestern University in the sixth annual BCS Academic Bowl presented by the New America Foundation’s Education Policy Program. NIU is ranked No. 15 in the final Bowl Championship Series standings while Northwestern is No. 20.
The academic bowl calculates the difference between the entire football team’s graduation rate versus that of the male students at the university; the graduation gap between black and white students on the team versus the same gap among the school’s overall male population; and the gap between the graduation rate of black football players versus the black men at the school.
The Huskies will make their first BCS bowl appearance in school history Jan. 1, when they face Florida State in the Orange Bowl in Miami.
NIU beat out academic powerhouses Notre Dame and Stanford because its graduation rate among football players is 15 percent better than the male student population. NIU also performed well in graduating its black football players, with a rate of 63 percent compared with the university’s black male student population, which graduates at a 30 percent rate.
NIU spokesman Paul Palian said academic recognition was not uncharted territory for Huskies teams, which boast academic All-Americans.
“Any time when you’re listed among those quality institutions, there is something to be said for that,” Palian said. “The football team has been meeting and exceeding expectations on the field and in the classroom.”
The report was not all good for NIU, which showed the university’s struggles with its graduation rate among men. One reason the NIU football team graduated football players at a rate 15 percentage points higher than the male student population is because the overall graduation rate among men is 51 percent.
Only Louisville, Kent State and Boise State had male student graduation rates below NIU, which also had one of the lowest graduation rates for black men at 30 percent.
“Although the university’s overall male graduation rate is only 51 percent, it graduates its football players at a much higher rate than the rest of the student body,” the report stated. “NIU gets a lot of points for helping out its football players.”
NIU’s Orange Bowl opponent, Florida State, No. 12 in the BCS standings, comes in at last place for the BCS Academic Bowl standings. Florida State received the No. 25 spot in part because it graduates only 45 percent of its football players.
It also has a gap between white and black players because the team is the only squad to graduate 100 percent of white players but only 33 percent of black players.