With academic controversies rocking institutions from Florida State to UNC-Chapel Hill, the term “student athlete” seems to have moved away from the former word and towards the latter.
Questions of compensation and the legitimacy of NCAA rules against certain player activity have arisen, forcing all participants in the system, from athletes to fans to administrators, to confront that college athletics has morphed from a character-building pastime to a highly lucrative business.
When University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach, John Calipari, announced that all of his players, from top-five material to walk-ons, would declare for the NBA draft in an effort to exploit a procedural loophole; it said less about the shrewd Wildcats helmsman than it did about a system in which the college experience is little more than a development league for the truly gifted.
Leaving school after a season is not a sign of disloyalty; it’s a calculated risk, a business decision. One college injury can derail the career of a previously surefire pro prospect, costing him millions in a matter of seconds. Choosing to leave is understandable.
In the face of the increasingly quasi-professional climate of college athletics, Tech’s teams have fared as well or better in the classroom than they have on the field of play. The NCAA’s Annual Progress Report (APR) recognized a number of Jackets teams for their strong academic track record.
Implemented in 2003, APR was implemented in an effort to better quantify the success of Division I athletic programs in maintaining their participants on the path to graduation. Devising a metric for this performance would also allow the NCAA to punish failing schools and reward those that took the education of their student athletes seriously.
In calculating APR, each student-athlete in a program is evaluated out of a possible two points. One point is awarded for staying in school over the course of that year, and another is earned if that student maintains academic eligibility, as determined by GPA, throughout the year.
Once points are tallied up, they are divided by the number of athletes in the program and multiplied by 1,000 to provide a final score. Teams failing to maintain an average score of 930 over a four-year period are disqualified from competing in NCAA championships the following season, courtesy of NCAA.com.
Sixteen percent of teams nationally had a perfect score over a four-year period ending in 2015, and nearly 95 percent would face no sanctions. The best-performing student athletes were ice hockey players, with a four-year APR average of 987, while Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) competitors brought up the rear of the field, with average scores of 964 and 954 each.
Despite having stronger standing as athletic powerhouses, the so-called ‘Power 5’ conferences — the Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC and ACC, all of which are granted the ability to legislate certain internal regulations — outscored their less heralded counterparts.
Only 3 percent of Power 5 squads face ineligibility for NCAA-sanctioned championships, while the same holds true for 6 percent of conferences without autonomous governance.
While national average APR has more or less held steady, 13 of 15 Tech teams improved their scores this year, every program except for the men’s and women’s basketball teams.
Although perfect scores of 1000 for volleyball, men’s swimming and diving and golf are incredible feats, perhaps most impressive on the national spectrum is the lofty 987 posted by Paul Johnson’s Jackets football team. Although Tech suffered through injuries, misfortune and the growing pains of inexperience on Saturdays, their score places them in the 90th percentile nationally and second-best in the conference, courtesy of ramblinwreck.com.
Tech football’s retention and eligibility prowess stands out at a time when the sport lags behind others in preparing its participants for life outside of the sport. Football accounts for 5 of the 16 men’s teams that lost postseason access after the 2014-15 season thanks to low APR scores.
These accolades are no stranger to the Jackets. The men’s golf team, for example, has sustained a decade of success under head coach Bruce Heppler, wining the APR Public Recognition award each year.
Whether Tech’s teams will improve on a mostly tepid showing across the board last season remains an open question,. In the blink of an eye, a season that seems destined to end in a conference championship or bowl game can slip out of control.
Regardless of how many trophies Tech athletes bring to campus, though, they will no doubt continue a tradition of academic excellence.