CHAPEL HILL -- Fewer football players across the country are receiving their diplomas compared to their classmates who do not play sports.
Based on three years of data, a study by the College Sport Research Institute based at UNC-Chapel Hill shows Division I football players are graduating at lower rates than full-time male college students.
Findings show Football Bowl Subdivision players are 17 percent less likely to graduate than full-time male students.
This is the third year for the study and findings show there was a slight improvement in graduation rates this year compared to last year's high of 20 percent.
"We don't know what the reasons are for the gap, but it may be that football players are working a full-time job," said researcher Richard Southall.
At Duke University, Head Football Coach David Cutcliffe said school remains the top priority. He said he tells his players to model their lives around faith, family, future and football.
"The hard work itself is the most valuable thing to a college football player because it becomes who he becomes," said Cutcliffe, who admits Division I players have a heavier burden on their shoulders. “If you've ever been beat by a hammer and then asked if you wanted to go to class after that, the answer would be no to most male students. It's difficult."
Cutcliffe's players said their used to juggling a grueling training schedule and studying for their classes.
"It's a matter of managing your time and knowing how to separate the two," said senior safety Ross Cockrell.
However, Southall said the findings question whether it's realistic to expect football players to graduate at the same rate as male students.
"Should be these players, specifically in football, be seen as employees, who are brought to campus to generate tremendous amounts of revenue?" said Southall.
Cutcliffe said players know the expectations are high and the athletes will be the winners in the long run.
"Bring it on, that's the mentality you want those guys, the harder, the better," he said.
CSRI said its data analysis could help impact policy decisions.
Along with football, the institute is also exploring how baseball, softball and basketball players graduate in comparison to full-time students.