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2020-2021 Adjusted Graduation Gap Report: NCAA FBS Football

2020-2021 Adjusted Graduation Gap Report: NCAA FBS Football

College Football Playoff Top-10 AGG = -25.7 Overall Power-5
Black players = -21.5; Power-5 White players = -2.1

Columbia, SC – June 2, 2021... The College Sport Research Institute (CSRI) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC, released its eleventh-annual National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) Football Adjusted Graduation Gap (AGG) report today. Not surprisingly, given their nearly singular focus on qualifying for the College Football Playoff (CFP), the CFP Top-10 has an AGG of -25.7, significantly worse than the AGG for Power-5 schools (- 17.2). In addition, the AGG for Power-5 Black players is -21.5, while the AGG of White players on Power-5 rosters is only -2.1 (See Table 2 in appendix.). 

For the eleventh year in a row, there is a significant discrepancy between FBS football players’ graduation rates and those of full-time male students. The 2020-21 Power-5 Conferences’ AGG remains sizable and significant at -17.2, the second straight year of an increasing gap, while the Group-of-5 Conferences’ AGG is -8.4.

It is worth noting the growing disparity between the Power-5 (-17.2) and Group-of-5 (-8.4) conference AGGs. The difference of 8.8-points is the largest in the eleven-years CSRI has been reporting AGGs. In addition, the best Power-5 Conference AGG (-14.0) is about the same as the worst Group-of-5 Conference AGG (-14.9).

Study Highlights

(See tables and chart in appendix for additional information.)

Power-5 Conference AGGs continue to be large. The football player graduation rate in these conferences is 17.2 percentage points lower than the general male student body rate.

The Power-5 AGG of -17.2 is worse than last year’s -16.5, the second straight year with an increasing gap.

The Black and White Power-5 AGG differential remains striking. The Black AGG is -21.5 compared to only -2.1 for the White AGG.

The College Football Playoff Top-10 AGG of -25.7 is remarkable.

The Group-of-5 Conference AGG remains sizable at -8.4. Nevertheless, it’s 8.8 points better than the Power-5, the largest difference in our 11 years of reporting.1

The Group-of-5/Power-5 AGG difference is caused mainly by a difference in Black AGGs, as White AGGs are similar for the two sets of schools.

The Group-of-5, unlike the Power-5, continues to show a gradual improving trend (see graph below). Compared to 2013, its AGG is 6.3 percentage points better, just under one point of improvement per year.

The AGG for Group-of-5 Black players is about half that of Power-5 Black players ( -11.2 vs. - 21.5).

Among the Power-5 conferences, the Big XII Conference has the smallest AGG at -14.0, while the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) has the largest at -19.9.

The Sun Belt Conference has the smallest Group-of-5 AGG at -2.1. The American Athletic Conference has the largest at -14.9, although it’s only slightly larger than the smallest Power-5 conference AGG (Big XII).

1 The difference is statistically significant at the .01 level.

CSRI Position on Graduation Rates

In 1990, Congress mandated full disclosure of graduation rates at schools that award athletically related aid and receive federal financial aid. The Federal Graduation Rate (FGR) reflects the percentage of students (athletes and non-athletes) who graduate within six years from the school where they initially enrolled as a full-time student. The FGR measures the extent to which colleges and universities retain and graduate recruited athletes, thus providing one measure of whether they are fulfilling the NCAA’s mission of maintaining athletes as an integral part of their student body. The strength of the FGR is its focus on student retention.

Another useful graduation rate measure, created by the NCAA to track athletes, is called the Graduation Success Rate (GSR). The GSR excludes from its calculation athletes — including transfers — who leave a particular school prior to graduating (i.e., early), while in good academic standing. The NCAA methodology also includes athletes who transfer into an institution in a program’s GSR. The GSR recognizes college athletes may take a different path to graduation than other full-time students. However, a limitation of the GSR is that currently no comparable “graduation” rate exists for the general student body. In other words, the GSR and FGR measures are not comparable.

The NCAA created the GSR to correct the FGR’s tendency to underestimate graduation rates by treating all college transfers as non-graduate dropouts. Unfortunately, the GSR correction causes it to overestimate athlete graduation rates. In effect, it treats all athletes meeting minimal eligibility requirements who leave college before graduation as transfers who graduate, ignoring that many transfers drop out and never graduate.

The AGG was developed to partly address FGR and GSR limitations. The AGG compares an adjusted FGR for full-time students and the reported FGR for college athletes for the following NCAA Division-I sports: FBS football, D-I men’s & women’s basketball, D-I softball, and baseball. Reports for each sport are released at various times during the year.

The College Sport Research Institute believes in the full disclosure of all measures pertaining to college athlete graduation, including the FGR, GSR, and AGG since one measure is not “better” or somehow “fairer” than the others as each measure different things. The FGR focuses on an institution’s ability to retain and graduate students it admits, while the GSR attempts to account for athletes who leave a school that initially admitted them.

Historically, standard evaluations of NCAA athlete graduation rates have involved comparisons with general student body rates presumed to pertain to full-time students. However, many schools’ general student body rates include a significant number of part- time students. This is problematic because all NCAA athletes must be “full-time” and should therefore be compared with other full-time students. The downward “part-timer bias” in the student-body FGR distorts this comparison. Because part-time students take longer to graduate, this significantly reduces the measured general student-body FGR, making the relative rate of college athletes at many schools and conferences appear more favorable. CSRI’s Adjusted Graduation Gap methodology addresses this “part-timer bias” using regression-based adjustments for the percentage of part-time students enrolled at an institution.2 The adjustments also account for the aggregate influence of school-specific factors such as location and student demographics. These estimates then become the basis for the AGG comparison.

For details, see Eckard, E. W. (2010). NCAA athlete graduation rates: Less than meets the eye. Journal of Sport Management, 24(1), 45-59.


Table 1: 2020-21 Football Bowl Sub-division (FBS) Power-5 and Group-of-5 AGGs

Power-5 Conference B+W
Big XII -14.0 -17.1 2.3
Big Ten -15.6 -21.1 -4.3
PAC-12 -17.8 -23.0 -4.1
Southeastern -18.7 -23.6 3.1
Atlantic Coast -19.9 -22.8 -7.4
Average -17.2 -21.5 -2.1
Group-of-5 Conference B+W
Sun Belt -2.1 -4.7 7.6
Mid-American -4.5 -7.4 4.1
Conference-USA -8.2 -10.6 4.9
Mountain West -12.4 -19.7 -6.7
American -14.9 -13.6 -12.7
Average -8.4 -11.2 -0.6
All FBS Average -12.8 -16.4 -1.3


  • Power-5
    • Notre Dame excluded – Independent in football
  • Group-of-5
    • Air Force & Navy excluded – Data not comparable to civilian schools

Table 2: Ten-year Trend-lines: Power-5 and Group-of-5 AGGs*

College Football Playoff B+W
Top-10 -25.7 -33.8 -4.9
Non-Top-10 -15.8 -19.6 -1.7

Chart 1 — Ten-year Trend-lines: Power-5 and Group-of-5 AGGs*

Chart 1 — Ten-year Trend-lines: Power-5 and Group-of-5 AGGs — In the Power-5, trends first rose slightly from approximately -21.5 to -20, then dropped again in t0 -21.5 2012, after which trends began to climb to -17.0 in 2018. After 2018, trends again fell to -18 in 2020. In 2010, Group-of-5 was trending at -15. This rose slightly in 2012 to -14, then fell again until 2014 when it began to rise year-over-year, finally reaching -8 in 2020.

* “AGG Trends” means are based on individual school AGGs, not conference mean AGGs. Consequently, means may differ slightly from “Conference Summary” means.

Research Team

  • Mr. Chris Corr, Ph.D. candidate, supervised data collection for this year’s Football AGG Report, Department of Sport and Entertainment Management, University of South Carolina
  • Mr. Aiden Murphy, undergraduate student, assisted with data collection, Department of Sport and Entertainment Management, University of South Carolina
  • Dr. E. Woodrow Eckard, CSRI research associate; professor of economics emeritus, Business School, University of Colorado – Denver
  • Dr. Richard M. Southall, CSRI director; professor, Department of Sport and Entertainment Management, University of South Carolina
  • Dr. Mark S. Nagel, CSRI associate director; professor, Department of Sport and Entertainment Management, University of South Carolina.

Media Contacts

  • Richard M. Southall, Ed.D., Director
    College Sport Research Institute
    University of South Carolina
    (901) 240-7197 (cell)
  • Mark S. Nagel, Ed.D., Associate Director
    College Sport Research Institute
    University of South Carolina
    (770) 891-9714 (cell)
  • Allen Wallace, Communications Manager
    College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management
    University of South Carolina
    (803) 777-5667 (office)

Twitter: @csrisouthall; @csriconference

Phone: 803-777-0658 / 803-777-5550


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