On Wednesday, the NCAA released its latest Graduation Success Rate numbers, and what they show is improvement for California’s athletic programs, including football.
The GSR is a snapshot, and a delayed one. The student-athletes represented entered as freshmen from 2005 to 2008, and received athletic scholarships.
While the football student-athletes represented in the cohort were recruited under former head coach Jeff Tedford, they are given six years after enrollment to complete their degree.
The football program saw its GSR rise to 52 percent, an improvement of eight percent over the past two years.
Men’s basketball saw its GSR rise 17 points since the 2013 report, and now sits at 55 percent.
Overall, Cal student-athletes in the 2005-2008 cohort posted a 79 percent GSR, with 11 of 23 measured teams coming in at 90 percent or better. Four teams – men’s golf, men’s gymnastics, women’s tennis and women’s volleyball – scored a perfect 100.
“All of us associated with Cal Athletics hold academic achievement in the highest regard, and we expect nothing less at the world’s No. 1 public university,” Director of Athletics Mike Williams said in a statement from Cal Athletics. “It is important that we recognize the hard work and dedication of our student-athletes, coaches and staff in this important area. While we are certainly pleased with the results for the vast majority of our teams and 850 student-athletes, we are encouraged to see that steps we have taken in recent years to improve graduation rates overall are taking hold and we are seeing a clear upturn where it is needed most.”
Head football coach Sonny Dykes Dykes took over the program in December of 2012, and both he and men’s basketball head coach Cuonzo Martin were hired in part because of the importance they placed on the ‘student’ half of ‘student-athlete.’
Speaking Up For Themselves
The evidence of Martin’s emphasis shows in the two players many feel are one-and-done candidates – Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown. Before the Blue and Gold Scrimmage, both of them made a point of saying that education was just as important to them in choosing Cal as basketball was.
“I’m proud of him, for finishing his career in the classroom, as well as on the basketball court,” Rabb said, when asked what his senior point guard, Tyrone Wallace, brings to the table.
When asked about the hype surrounding the basketball team– ranked No. 14 in the nation in the Associated Press poll – Rabb, unprompted, cited one of Martin’s most consistent refrains.
“I think that we understand what’s going on around us, but at the end of the day, rankings only matter on paper – we haven’t played a game yet – and the one thing that we do know is that we’re the No. 1 public institution in the world, and the No. 3 school in the world,” Rabb said. “We’re going to take advantage of these academics to become better men, in life, too.”
Then, Brown chimed in.
“I second that – that’s the only ranking that matters, in our opinion – the education,” said the former-No. 1 overall player in the Scout 100. “We take our education very seriously. That was a part of our reason, our decision to come to a school like Berkeley. We can almost care less about the rankings, about the coaches poll or whatever. That’s the ranking that we care about.”
Brown – known for his abilities on the court – has been put to the grindstone by his family when it comes to expressing himself – such a valuable quality in a college setting, where professors can, and sometimes do, reduce a student-athlete to just the second half of that hyphenate. When he was in sixth grade, his grandmother, Diane Varnado, made him and older brother Quenton write a paper explaining why they wanted an XBOX 360.
"She made us tell her why we wanted it and what would be the benefit and we came up with some lame excuse like hand-eye coordination," he smiled.
It’s a long way from writing papers for a College Writing course, to be sure, but it’s at the core of why he and Rabb both chose Cal – in the grand tradition of UC Berkeley, they know how to advocate for themselves. They’re more than just a jersey number, and it’s apparent when they open their mouths.
“I’m just comfortable with myself, and in who I am,” Rabb said. “I’m really confident in myself, and I was raised to speak up for myself. It has a lot to do with the way I was raised.”
“Same thing,” Brown said. “Who I am, it’s expected for me and my family to be able to advocate for ourselves. If we wanted something, we had to explain why we wanted it, and that’s just how I was raised.”
In Summer Bridge, both Rabb and Brown took the same course with different teachers – actually, twin brothers – Education 39A and 39B.
“I can’t get into it, because, honestly, we’d be sitting here all day,” Rabb says, when asked to describe the class. He shows as much excitement talking about his education as he does breaking down practice and game film. “It was one of my favorite classes ever. I would take that class over again. I can’t say that about any other class.”
“One of the best topics,” Brown said, “was shaping your educational trajectory, learning to navigate your path through education and things like that. That was one of the topics that we took to, but there were a lot of different things that opened our eyes and enlightened us to the education here at Berkeley.”
“It made me realize,” Rabb said, “that there is so much we can get into as students. I didn’t realize there were so many lanes that could be opened up for us, just by being here. My eyes, I just want to figure out what I’m going to do, because there’s so much out there.”
More On the Numbers: A Closer Look
The GSR is not a comprehensive picture, and, by its very nature, has a lag time that needs to be accounted for when considering the numbers. The Academic Progress Rate (APR) provides more of a real-time assessment, and, using that, the football team’s score jumped 46 points between 2011-12 and 2012-13.
A school source told BearTerritory that another considerable increase is expected when new data is announced in the spring.
Twelve football student-athletes are on track to graduate this December, while a number of former student-athletes have returned to school to earn their degrees, the Athletic Department’s release said.
Martin’s program registered the biggest GPA improvement among Cal’s 30 sports for the 2014-15 academic year, and both scholarship seniors – David Kravish and Christian Behrens -- completed their degree requirements in May.
“Moving a four-year average takes time,” Williams said in the release. “It is important to remember the GSR report released today from the NCAA reflects the scores from the 2005-2008 cohort of student-athletes. Because we are looking at lagging indicators with the graduation rates, the positive results we are seeing now in the APR will be reflected in our GSR in four to five years.”
The release also stated that campus and department administrators are also in the midst of implementing recommendations from the Chancellor’s Task Force on Athletics and Academics that issued its report in the fall of 2014. So far, nine of the 15 proposals directly related to athletics have been fulfilled, which the release indicated was far ahead of schedule.
“As a university and athletic department, we have an obligation to prepare our student-athletes for success in all aspects of their Cal experience,” Williams said. “Creating a campus climate and culture that supports student-athletes daily are two of the most significant areas addressed by the Chancellor’s Task Force. With the full backing of our chancellor, we are confident in the direction we are heading.”