Handbook on the Economics of Women in Sports
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Handbook on the Economics of Women in Sports

Edited by Eva Marikova Leeds and Michael A. Leeds

Women’s sports have received much less attention from economists than from other social scientists. This Handbook fills that gap with a comprehensive economic analysis of women’s sports. It also analyzes how the behavior and treatment of female athletes reflect broad economic forces.
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Chapter 11: The impact of increased academic standards of Proposition 16 on the graduation rates of women and men in Division IA intercollegiate athletics

B. Erin Fairweather


The academic achievement of student-athletes has been the subject of much public debate. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has claimed that student-athletes have an ‘excellent experience’ in college and that student-athletes in even the NCAA’s most competitive divisions graduate at higher rates than non-athletes. If true, this implies that intercollegiate athletics actually benefit student-athletes academically (NCAA Research Staff, 2009). However, there is little agreement on whether intercollegiate athletics make student-athletes better-rounded individuals or whether they simply make student-athletes ‘unpaid professionals’ (Zimbalist, 1999). The NCAA’s implementation of Proposition 16 added to the debate, as it contradicted the NCAA’s own claim that student-athletes graduate at a higher rate than the overall student population. In August 1995, Proposition 16 began to impose more-stringent academic standards for student-athletes, which raises the following question: if student-athletes were already reaching higher levels of academic achievement than the overall student population, why did the NCAA need to raise the scholastic bar for incoming freshmen? One explanation might be that the NCAA implemented Proposition 16 for all student-athletes when in reality the NCAA was targeting specific subgroups.

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