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PunditFact: ISIS threat not imminent; NCAA graduation rates vary

The Sunday shows turned to Washington's de facto Republican foreign policy experts, U.S. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, to evaluate the situation in Iraq.

Their prognosis: America faces an imminent threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and President Barack Obama's policies are failing. McCain said Obama's decision to remove U.S. forces from Iraq created a "vacuum of American leadership throughout the Middle East."

"We're paying a price for that," McCain said on CNN's State of the Union.

On Fox News Sunday, Graham said ISIS' next target could be America.

"Do you really want to let America be attacked?" Graham asked. "What is going on in Washington when the FBI director, when the head of national intelligence, the CIA, the Homeland Security secretary, tells every member of Congress, including the president, we're about to be attacked in a serious way because (of) the threat emanating from Syria and Iraq?"

Graham is right that the director of the FBI, the Homeland Security secretary and other top intelligence officials have sounded the alarm about ISIS. But none of them has gone quite so far to say that "we're about to be attacked."

This claim rates Half True.

Top government officials have spoken of the conflict in Syria — which has spread into Iraq — as a terrorist training ground.

Jeh Johnson, the Homeland Security director, also cast the Syrian civil war as a cause that could inspire "lone wolf" terrorists in the mode of the Boston marathon bombers.

"We are very focused on foreign fighters heading to Syria," Johnson said in February. "Based on our work and the work of our international partners, we know individuals from the U.S., Canada and Europe are traveling to Syria to fight in the conflict. At the same time, extremists are actively trying to recruit Westerners, indoctrinate them, and see them return to their home countries with an extremist mission. … Syria has become a matter of homeland security."

Also on Sunday, NCAA president Mark Emmert said the NCAA will appeal a court ruling that could open the door for college athletes to be paid.

On ABC's This Week, Emmert tried to shoot down a perception that college athletes should be treated as professionals. They are students, Emmert said.

"More (student-athletes) graduate than the students who aren't student-athletes," Emmert claimed.

To show that the student-athlete graduation rate is higher than that of the student body, NCAA officials point to the federal graduation rate, which counts both student athletes and the general student body.

According to the most recent federal data, 65 percent of Division I student-athletes who enrolled in 2006 graduated by 2012. That's 1 percentage point higher than the general student body, which had a 64 percent graduation rate.

The numbers, however, vary wildly by sport.

Football and basketball, the top revenue-generating college sports, graduated 59 percent and 47 percent of its players respectively. Conversely, more than half of the 18 women's sports have graduation rates higher than 90 percent, while only one men's sport — fencing — has a graduation rate above 90 percent.

"Emmert is not referring to football and men's basketball, which is considerably lower," said Gerald Gurney, a former senior associate athletic director for academics at Oklahoma University. "The problem in college sports is not with the women's soccer team."

Additionally, it's difficult to compare the graduation rates and other academic successes of student-athletes to nonathletes because some programs keep their athletes up to NCAA academic standards "by any means necessary," said Dave Ridpath, a professor of sports administration at Ohio University. He referenced the recent controversy at the University of North Carolina, where some football players were registered for fake classes to get easy A's.

"Keeping them eligible by any means necessary … might lead to graduation, but are they educated?" Ridpath said.

As such, we rate Emmert's claim Half True.

Lauren Carroll contributed to this report. Read the full fact-checks at

The statement

Top U.S. intelligence officials have told "every member of Congress, including the president, we're about to be attacked in a serious way because (of) the threat emanating from Syria and Iraq."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, on Fox News Sunday

The ruling

PolitiFact ruling: Half True

Graham is right that the director of the FBI, the Homeland Security secretary and other top intelligence officials have sounded the alarm about ISIS. But none of them has gone quite so far to say that "we're about to be attacked." We rate Graham's claim Half True.

The statement

"More (student-athletes) graduate than the students who aren't student-athletes."

NCAA president Mark Emmert, on ABC's This Week

The ruling

PunditFact ruling: Half True

The most recent data shows that student-athletes graduate at just about the same rate as the general student population. But the numbers fluctuate greatly depending on the specific sport, and graduation rates for football and basketball are below the overall rate. We rate Emmert's claim Half True.

PunditFact: ISIS threat not imminent; NCAA graduation rates vary 08/10/14 [Last modified: Sunday, August 10, 2014 10:50pm]
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