More than 400,000 student-athletes will be turn pro this year, in something other than sports.

At least that's what the NCAA tells us in an ad that is running numerous times during the NCAA basketball playoffs, or March Madness as we like to call it, which began last Thursday and continues the next two weeks.

That being said, we can't help but wonder just how many of the participating players are truly student athletes. It's no secret that some of the more talented of the players will be leaving college after one or two years to chase the riches of the professional ranks, whether here in the NBA, or in Europe. To them, the college experience is just for them to hone their skills in an effort to reach the next level of competition.

NCAA competition is supposed to be about amateurs competing against amateurs, and not mercenaries just biding their time until the opportunity for jump to the professional ranks arrives. College athletics are supposed to be about students pursuing a degree while competing in intercollegiate sports.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan introduced a proposal to bar men's college basketball teams from postseason play if they fail to graduate 40 percent of their players. The idea didn't set well with coaches and the NCAA.

Why?

Duncan's proposal seems a bit tame. After all, graduating 40 percent of a team's 15-player roster means that only six players would have to graduate for a team to be eligible. That's six out of 15.

Had Duncan's proposal been put into effect this year, a dozen teams which qualified for this year's tournament wouldn't be eligible. One of those schools includes Kentucky, a number one seed that graduates only 31 percent of its players, according to an annual study by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.

While some of the schools which qualified for this year's tournament, such as Notre Dame, Villanova, Duke, Lehigh and Cornell, graduate all or nearly all of their players, the 40 percent rate would never be a factor to them. And even Duncan admits that the 40 percent rate is setting the bar low. But at least it's a place to begin.

In case you're curious as to what teams, besides Kentucky, wouldn't qualify this year if the 40 percent rule were in effect, here are the others.

Maryland (8 percent), California (20 percent), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (29 percent), Washington (29 percent), Tennessee (30 percent), Kentucky and Baylor (36 percent), Missouri (36 percent), New Mexico State (36 percent), Clemson (37 percent) Georgia Tech (38 percent) and Louisville (38 percent).

What would the new rule do to the quality of the NCAA tournament? We think it would have a positive effect. After all, schools that qualify for the tournament make millions of dollars. Plus their schools get national exposure. Were they threatened with losing all that money and exposure because of poor graduation rates college administrators and coaches would quickly make efforts to see that their programs comply with the 40 percent rule.

We don't think Secretary Duncan's proposal will ever see the light of day. The NCAA is too powerful to let government interfere with the way they do business. But it sure makes for some interesting conversation during the March Madness. Now, in addition to all the playing statistics that go with the college game, we can add "percentage of graduates" to the boxscore.

Bob Urban

rurban@tnonline.com [1]