This is the one of many (at least monthly) columns to be written by UMBC Director of Athletics Dr. Charles Brown. Dr. Brown is believed to be the longest-tenured AD in the state, with 20 years at the helm of the Retrievers. He has been an athletic director since 1981 and has served two terms as president of the Maryland Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and one term on the NCAA Division I Championships/Competition Cabinet.
I recently had the pleasure of attending a lecture given by Dr. Myles Brand, Executive Director of the NCAA. The lecture was a part of the Bicentennial Celebration of Mount St. Mary’s College and was held at the exclusive Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Athletics has played a big role in the growth and development of “the Mount,” and a documentary film of the history of the school’s athletic program was shown prior to Dr. Brand’s talk. The value of athletics to Mount St. Mary’s student-athletes and to the university at large came through clearly.
Dr. Brand first explained how the NCAA was formed at the beginning of the 20th century. It took the influence of the President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt, to bring university presidents together and develop an organization with codified rules and safeguards to keep sports programs (primarily football) safe and fair for all the participants. The big sports schools’ names have changed since then, from the likes of Princeton and Harvard to present-day Ohio State, USC, etc., but problems still exist. However, misconceptions about the NCAA, the value of sports at the university level, finances, and academics are all big issues. Recent graduation rates were splashed all over the local tabloids. “Zero” graduation rates, retention, APR’s and Federal rates are terms that are continually discussed, and I’d like to clear up what it all means.
- Federal Freshman Cohort Graduation Rate – Information is submitted to the federal government about all full-time freshmen who entered six years ago. The percentage of students who graduate is published and available for anyone to examine. Students who “flunk out,” transfer to another university regardless of the reason, or just stop attending the university all count negatively. Students who transfer into that university do not count. When calculating student-athletes’ percentages, only student-athletes receiving scholarships count toward totals. During the past five years, UMBC’s rate was approximately 66 percent. The following grid shows national averages:
Overall 62% 60% White 66% 63% Black 52% 43% White Males 59% 60% Black Males 48% 36% White Females 72% 65% Black Females 62% 47%
Only white male student-athletes scored lower (59% to 60%) than national averages. In all other categories, student-athletes scored higher! The biggest disparity is in the black female (62% to 47%) category.
- Graduation Success Rate – This statistic has been developed as a result of an NCAA presidential commission headed by Dr. Walt Harrison, President of the University of Hartford. The score also takes a snapshot look at each school’s student-athlete graduation history, but differs from the Federal rate in that it takes into account transfers into and out of each institution. If a student-athlete leaves in good standing from a university, it does not penalize the institution. Credit is given to students who transfer in and graduate. The GSR also looks at a six-year period of attendance. UMBC’s GSR is 85 percent, which is above the National average.
- Academic Progress Report – This is also a relatively new metric that was also developed by Dr. Harrison’s NCAA committee. Each scholarship student-athlete is tracked through each semester in attendance at the university. One point is awarded each semester for a student-athlete remaining academically eligible to participate and another point is awarded for moving on to the next semester or graduating. A maximum of 4 points can be awarded in a year to a student. Students who go ineligible or leave school lose a point for each. If there are 10 members of a team on scholarship, a maximum of 40 points per year may be earned for that team. Like a baseball batting average, the number is converted to a maximum score of 1000. Four-year averages are calculated for each sport offered. Teams must maintain a minimum score of 925 or face penalties from the NCAA.
The Federal rate and the GSR are six-year snapshots; the APR is a four-year snapshot. Both team and entire program rates are available to the public. One school may have a great overall progress report but have individual teams with poor results. At UMBC, our Federal rate, GSR and APR rates are all above the national norms. Also, UMBC athletes’ Federal rate is considerably above the UMBC graduation rate. We are in excellent shape academically and in no danger of mandatory penalties from the NCAA.
Overall, the NCAA student-athletes’ “report card” has been quite impressive. Thus, the Black Coaches Association’s Executive Director, Floyd Keith, expresses concern surrounding recently published articles that appear to include negative perceptions of student-athletes in general, and black student-athletes in particular. Results, he points out, clearly indicate that “black student-athletes graduate at a higher rate than the black student body population. Scholarship student-athletes are not unique from other gifted students who receive financial support for academic skills, music, dance, drama talent, ROTC achievement, and the like.”
The key to our expanding academic success, according to Dr. Brand, is to better prepare our students before attending college, better evaluate academic progress, and to make compliance and accountability real. The APR and the GSR are just the metrics that we needed to assess where we are.
Clearly, the APR and the GSR are more appropriate benchmarks for evaluating the academic success of NCAA Division I athletic programs than the Federal rate. With many big name programs “flunking” the academic test, most universities are now concentrating their efforts on meeting the minimum requirements of the APR (925) and meeting national averages for each sport in both the APR and GSR. Schools with extensive resources are building academic centers for student-athletes and hiring counselors and tutors who specialize in working with low academic-achieving students.
Despite all the help, Dr. Brand pointed out in his talk that the majority of the 65 schools chosen to compete in the 2007 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament did not meet the 925 APR benchmark, and that penalties will follow. Some local reporters have actually raised the question of “Who cares?” Why is this such a big deal? Why is it the school’s fault? Shouldn’t student-athletes be held accountable? Of course, student-athletes must be held accountable, but the schools’ responsibilities can never be trivialized.
Some say the NCAA is being hypocritical. On the one hand they claim to care about academics and have developed these statistical analyses. But, on the other hand they see the NCAA as a big money grabbing organization ($6 billion CBS basketball deal) that cares little about its star attraction, the student-athletes. The critics just use this as an excuse to “throw out the window” academic responsibility and reform.
Despite much skepticism from the media, the vast majority of the 340 Division I schools are totally committed to producing educated graduates. The NCAA has set a mandate to improve its academics, especially in its most visible sports. University of Maryland, College Park football coach Ralph Friedgen stated, “That’s what we’re here for. That’s part of our job. You have to judge a coach (and program) over a four- or five-year period. It’s become more apparent you want to recruit kids who are serious about getting an education.” Coach Friedgen got it right. The Maryland football team produces many NFL players yet still has high rates of graduation.
Coaches who criticize the NCAA’s efforts “to get it right” are just making excuses because they can’t do it. The media will blame parents, the NCAA, pro leagues, the university and the economics of collegiate sports. Just wait until the penalties start coming out this spring with four-year APR’s below the 925 benchmark. The excuses and finger pointing will become more creative.
Sports reporters across our country should laud those programs that value the student-athletes’ educational success. However, it’s not “sexy” news to report the NCAA has finally taken a stand on keeping the education of its student-athletes at the top of its priority list. The enforcement of these new standards should take a “bite” out of non-compliers, regardless of their athletic prowess, alumni clamor or media rationalization. If we can’t keep appropriate academic standards and enforce penalties against non-compliance, we in college athletics are in a sad state.
Actually, I’d like to see a reward system for those universities which consistently meet or exceed APR and GSR standards. UMBC Athletics would be in line for such a reward.