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U.S. News & World Report may offer the most-recognized academic rankings for universities, but another group offers a list with a twist- an evaluation of schools that is catered to the student-athlete.

Penn is not commonly thought of as an athletic powerhouse, but it ranked 11th in the most recent edition.

The rankings, compiled by the National Collegiate Scouting Association, average a university's place in the U.S. News and U.S. Sports Academy Directors' Cup rankings (solely meant to measure the strength of the school's athletic programs), as well as the school's graduation rate for athletes. This is the third year the NCSA has issued a report like this one.

Chris Krause, the founder and CEO of NCSA, played four years of collegiate football at Vanderbilt and was inspired to start the NCSA by his own difficult recruitment process. The group aims to provide information about prospective athletes to college coaches and vice versa, as well as a database that the association's Web site says only contains "qualified and realistic student-athletes" in a sophisticated database.

But the NCSA has also jumped into the high-stakes business of evaluating entire athletic programs, and the results may surprise many college-sports fans.

While the NCSA's report - dubbed the "collegiate power rankings" - contains its fair share of traditional powerhouses, it also gives high marks to little-known programs and leaves out some that have excelled on the national stage.

Quakers fans might be disheartened to know that Dartmouth and Yale, for example, sit ahead of Penn - at seventh and eighth respectively on the Division-I list.

The NCSA runs its formula on all NCAA Divisions and offers separate tables for each.

If the rankings do indeed shed light on the best places to play college sports, it may well be important to spread the word.

"The biggest trend we see is that about 75 percent of the programs that make our top 100 list are not [Division] I-A programs," Krause wrote in an e-mail interview, referring to the NCAA's top tier of football programs. "Most of the best educational opportunities fall in the D-III and I-AA category which offer hope to student-athletes who want to use athletics as a vehicle for a top education."

Indeed, the overall standings feature Williams, Amherst and Middlebury at the top three slots, ahead of Duke, Stanford and Notre Dame, which topped the D-I list. The former three schools are all members of the New England Small College Athletic Conference, a group of D-III schools that maintain a strong commitment to athletics - at Williams, for example, close to 40 percent of the student body participates in intercollegiate athletics. Also cracking the top 40 were little-known programs such as Kenyon, Wheaton and The College of New Jersey.

But whether or not this latest round of rankings will - or should - be used as benchmarks for high-school athletes is still an open question. Just as the U.S. News rankings have been criticized for oversimplifying the dynamics of a college, so has the value of the NCSA's standings been viewed with some skepticism.

"There are so many different dynamics going on here," said Mike Mahoney, a spokesman for the Penn athletic department. "What [this] ranking does, essentially, is put all the numbers in front of you."

The NCAA has put out some numbers of its own, too. In February, it released its second annual Academic Progress Rate report, which measures how well an institution moves athletes toward graduation and penalizes schools that do not make enough progress. Those rankings, however, do not tell how well student-athletes are really functioning, just whether they are failing, passing or transferring schools entirely.

Mahoney, for one, did not rule out that the report might still influence the recruiting process that athletes and coaches go through - especially if a university garnered a ranking as high as Penn did.

"These are numbers that every school wants to tout," he said.

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