Student Athletes Score Big in Academics

In an attempt to improve the academic success of student athletes, the National Collegiate Athletic Association recently released its Academic Progress Rate data for the 2003-2004 year, which measures graduation rates among scholarship athletes. All but one UC Irvine team scored above the minimum standard, which did not come as a surprise to the Department of Athletics.
‘Our overall APR as a school, compared to Pac-10 Conference schools, is only behind Stanford and Cal, and in the Big West, we’re only behind Pacific,’ said Bobby Smitheran, director of compliance for the athletics department. ‘That shows we’re doing a quality job.’
According to the NCAA, the APR is a real-time assessment of a team’s academic performance and will lead to increased academic success and graduation rates. The system awards two points each term to scholarship-eligible student athletes who remain academically eligible and stay in their school. A team’s total APR is the total points earned by the team divided by the total points possible.
The NCAA Web site says that the new academic measurements will hold teams accountable by issuing a contemporaneous penalty, where a team falling below the NCAA-designated standards will be unable to provide scholarships to replace players. The NCAA will not begin imposing these penalties until next year.
Teams falling below an APR of 925, which equates to a 50 percent graduation rate, will be subject to these monetary penalties.
However, the athletics department does not foresee that happening, as every sport except Men’s Basketball scored above 925. UCI’s overall APR is 959. Although the Baseball and Men’s Tennis teams scored below 925, the NCAA adjusted for their team size and estimates their actual APR is over 925. Smitheran believes the APR is appropriate.
‘I think it’s a good measure,’ Smitheran said. ‘The NCAA identified there was a growing problem with student athletes graduating, especially in the revenue sports, including basketball and football. All these measures are directed at helping student athletes graduate, so I think the impact it’s going to have is positive.’
Smitheran credited several factors for UCI’s high APR statistics.
‘Our admissions office looks closely at our student athletes, and is only going to admit those people who, like the general student population, can succeed academically,’ Smitheran said. ‘I think our coaches are recruiting quality student athletes, quality meaning that they’re students first, students of character that are going to work hard in the classroom.’
Dedra Butler, academic coordinator for the athletics department, explains that their department offers student athletes many resources to succeed academically, as well as bi-quarterly grade checks.
‘We understand that if a student doesn’t perform well in the classroom, it’s going to show up on the field, and we don’t want either one to happen,’ Butler said. ‘Our philosophy here is to help students reach their ultimate goal, whether they want to achieve a 2.5 or a 3.5 [GPA]. We work with all our students and make them aware of all the resources available to them.’
Although the Men’s Basketball team fell below the 925 mark with an APR of 871 in this first year, Smitheran is reluctant to jump to any conclusions.
‘I hesitate to talk about whether this is an indicator of how teams are doing, because it’s based on one year of data. Until we get to years three and four, that’s when we’ll get a real indication of how teams are doing,’ Smitheran said. ‘There’s a lot of the time demands placed on those basketball athletes. Their season goes over two quarters. For students competing over multiple terms, it can be difficult to manage.’
As more data is collected in the following years, Smitheran expects all UCI teams, including Men’s Basketball, to score above 925 and avoid the financial penalties that will begin to be enforced next year.
‘I don’t think the APR will be a problem with Men’s Basketball, or any other sport,’ Smitheran said. ‘I don’t foresee a problem with UCI.’
The NCAA limits student athletes to 20 hours per week of supervised athletic activity. However, student athletes must deal with difficult time-management issues.
‘Any date of competition, the NCAA counts as three hours, but in reality, they’re spending six or seven,’ Smitheran said. ‘I guess athletes would spend 30 hours a week, realistically. It’s obviously more than 20 hours a week.’