Football and Academics at Cal

Nouveau Stanford football coach Jim Harbaugh was recently quoted yapping about academic differences between Stanford and Cal, and made several inaccurate statements. To set the record straight, we republish here an interview with Mark Jensen, the academic coordinator for the Cal football office. This interview was first publsihed in the April 2007 issue of The Bear Insider magazine.

The article:

Recruiting inevitably involves academics. Recruits not only have to meet Cal's admission requirements, they also have to have the kind of character needed to succeed at Cal, especially when the academic and football going gets tough.

Academic ability and character are important to the Cal football staff as well. A recruit who enters the program and occupies a scholarship for a year or two of intensive training and coaching, but then leaves, represents a huge cost for the program - not only because of the loss of the player himself but also because some other talented athlete didn't get his chance to be at Cal.

So as we discuss the recruiting class of the 2007 in this issue of The Bear Insider, we also take a behind-the-scenes look at how "academic recruiting" plays into the process. It's also useful to remember that the processes and policies described here are often of utmost importance to the parents of recruits who are assisting their son in making an important life decision. Thus "academic recruiting" is a key cornerstone of future recruiting success.

As Mark Jensen, who heads Student-Athlete Development for the football program, says in the following interview, Cal's success on the field in recent years has allowed the Bears to become even more selective in recruiting. It's a rare thing indeed to be invited to a school that is both in the top 10 academically and potentially now in the top 10 in football as well.

This interview took place in Mark's office at Memorial Stadium during mid-December 2006, with oak tree protesters outside just down the hill - and before the end of recruiting for the 2007 class.

Mark, let's talk about graduation rates first. How are they measured?

It's interesting - it depends on whom you are talking to. That's one of the areas I work on - collecting our numbers and our graduation rates, and analyzing them in various ways.

For example, the American Football Coaches Association, the AFCA, produces a graduation rate, but they only take certain things into account, and do it differently than the GSR (the Graduation Success Rate), one of the NCAA rates. And now, we have the new APR as well (the Academic Progress Rate).

The APR is the new guideline the NCAA is using. That's the one that caused Arizona to have scholarships taken away this past year because they didn't reach the minimum level. We think it's the most accurate measure of graduation rate success.

What kinds of things do they take into account? One takes into account every freshman that comes in -; but counts a transfer or a graduation from another school against us. That one also doesn't take into account players who transferred in and then graduated here. Another rate may take into account everyone we brought in, whether they were scholarship or walk-on, and compare that against who graduated. And yet another may look at just the kids who are eligible to graduate and compare that against actual graduations out of that group.

What does it mean to say that someone is "not eligible" to graduate?

Well, for example, over the last two seasons, we've graduated every senior from this team except for eight players, all whom are now in the NFL. So everyone who had the potential to graduate either did or they're playing in the NFL. Now, if I go back four or five years to their incoming class, we might have lost some of those players along the way, and that could affect that class's graduation rate. So, for different groups, there are different graduation rates.

It kind of depends on whom you're speaking with and which rate you're talking about. The flaws that most people talk about are when a system doesn't take into account incoming junior college transfers, or those players who leave the program but legitimately transfer to another school.

And even if they graduate there.

Yes, that's right. Right now I think that our current GSR (looking back) is officially 47 percent. But that was because we went through a period of new athletic directors, a coaching change, and a 1-10 season that drove a lot of people out.

With Coach [Jeff] Tedford coming in and really raising the academic bar, [he has been] cutting out all the slack in the old ways of doing things.

A lot of it is staggered, when these rates come out and when they're published. We feel that if you look at it since Coach Tedford has been here, what we've done and what he has done, we're definitely moving in the right direction, getting to where we need to be. For example, the so-called current GSR rate will go up to 76 percent next year. We already have the data in hand to know that.

There's a Stanford website called The Bootleg that enjoys publishing graduation rates comparing Stanford against Cal and other Pac-10 opponents. They're currently showing the 47% rate for Cal.

Yes, and it's based on the years 2000-2003. It's three years old. That's the somewhat unfortunate thing with these measures of players who graduated in the period between 2000 and 2003. They came to Cal in 1996 to 1998, which was completely prior to [the current] staff and what we're doing now.

However, as I mentioned earlier, the Academic Progress Rate is the new measure that the NCAA is using as the standard and holding us to.

What the APR does is give you a max of two points for every student-athlete-semester. You get one point for retention plus one point for eligibility. So, if you're a student, and you were here in the fall, and you passed 12 units, and you come back in the spring, you're both eligible and we've retained you, so you're a 2-for-2.

For one year, a single player can give us four points.

But if you passed your units and then declared for the NFL and left early, you're a) eligible so we get one point, but you left, so we do not get b) the point for retaining you.

If you passed four units but didn't pass six (the definition of 'full-time') and you came back, you're a) not eligible (-1), but we retained you (+1). And if you fail out of school, we are -2.

The APR takes those numbers and averages them over a three-year period. So whenever a score is published, it is an average of the three prior years.

So it's what the stock market calls a lagging indicator that slowly moves in the direction you are traveling.

Yes. Because using an average takes into account that in one year that you may get hurt a little bit, or you may have a bad number due to unusual circumstances.

That's fair.

So, what they're doing now is, they've up set this measure per sport. We have to achieve a score of a 925 (where 1,000 represents a perfect score for however many players we have). If you do not achieve 925, you will have scholarships taken away.

The first year the score came out was last year. I think Stanford was No.1 and we were No.2 in the Pac-10. We had like a 940, and they were like a 970 or a 980, I believe. Arizona, for example, was down near like 820 or something, so they had seven scholarships removed from football, and four from baseball.

Is this APR the first time that there's actually been a significant penalty, like the loss of scholarships?

Yes, the first time.

That puts real teeth into it.

Yes, it really puts teeth into it. They're serious about you retaining your student athletes and helping them graduate. It's looking at everyone on scholarship. We're going to lose points for a kid who transfers - because we didn't retain them. On the other hand, a guy who comes in to replace him will get added to the system so there is a balancing factor.

Does the system ignore walk-ons?

Yes, it ignores walk-ons.

How are you doing against this measure?

The rates for this year will be very good, but they haven't been officially released yet.

If you can hit a few highlights, how does Cal football rank with other Cal sports?

Very comparable. We are, I would say, in the upper tier. There were only two sports at Cal that had a perfect score this last year, men's golf and women's rowing. Baseball was a 975, gymnastics was below us, and soccer was below us.

One aspect of the APR system does seem a bit odd. I can think of several quite legitimate reasons where a student might leave school -; sometimes just temporarily.

Well, yes, there are exceptions. For example, if a person is LDS and goes on a mission, or serves in the military, we would not be penalized. But, if a player leaves early to go to the NFL, or transfers, or is dismissed from school, we lose that point.

I can understand being dismissed from school as having a negative impact. But, going to the NFL?

Yes, I wonder about that too. The simple reality of it is, that's part of the reason they're here, to [not only] get a degree but to play football, perhaps professionally. But still, I think the NCAA is moving in the right direction [by] saying that academics are important. This is their way of backing it up.

The APR rates are computed annually and published each spring?

Yes, though the fact is we already know what our scores are because they are calculated through last year.

Each school would probably do that too because they'd want as much advance notice as possible.

Yes. It's a very good idea to know what's going on. This is really the measure that we care about now. Obviously, the GSR is important, and that fluctuates every year. Like I said, next year it's going to be at about 76 percent. I think we know what it will be the year after that and the year after that, too, already - next year it will dip down to something like 68% then go back up to somewhere around 85%.

How is the GSR calculated?

It is based on who you brought in as freshmen and how many graduated, counting scholarship players only. So, if a player goes to the NFL or if they transferred out, or whatever -; that decreases our score. The GSR doesn't look at your JC guys at all - it's strictly the freshman class and who made it through.

Now, when I look back at these old numbers, that was my class. Those were my teammates. There were a lot of different reasons why a lot of them left. A lot of it had to do with playing time, they wanted to go somewhere where they were going to play. Some of them were tired of losing. Some couldn't survive academically.

The position that I'm in now, I can see firsthand what we're doing with these guys, versus what it was eight or nine years ago. It's night and day better. The level of support that we now offer ...

Let's talk about that level of support for a minute. Maybe two years ago I did an interview with Dave Ortega about a lot of the detail stuff the team used, the workbooks, the charts, the record keeping, tracking classes and such. Give me your summary of that, looking at it both as a player and now as an administrator.

While I was here (before Dave Ortega), it was kind of sink or swim. You were thrown into the water, and either you learned how to swim or you didn't. And what I mean by that was, we had academic advisers, but there wasn't much advising going on. You basically chose your own classes your first couple of years here.

I was really on my own throughout that experience. I didn't have to report to anyone on a daily or weekly or monthly basis. It was just me doing it and getting it done, and I moved through it. It wasn't really until Tedford's first year here when he brought in his academic game plan.

We had tutors available back then but nothing was assigned to you, you only got that help if you went and requested it. Whereas now, the job that Derek Van Rheenan has done down there with that study center has probably been one of the biggest differences.

Coach Tedford has brought in the academic game plan and Derek Van Rheenan has taken over down there and has really done a fabulous job with the advisers he has hired. It's to a point now where these guys come in, and they're meeting three or four times a week with their advisers, either down in their office or up here at "game plan". The advisers are contacting all the professors and are getting updates on how these kids are doing in their classes.

In an earlier era football staff wasn't allowed to contact the professors.

And we're not now either. That's one benefit of the way our athletic advising and the study center is set up. It's not from within the athletic program. They're housed under the University. So they, as advisers, can contact [professors].

So the academic study center, is part of the university -; to whom is it available?

The academic study center is available to everyone. Within the center there is also a "student-athlete academic study center". They have a computer lab and they have their own set of advisers, along with their major advisers who are housed elsewhere on campus.

Could you tell us a bit about Derek Van Rheenan?

Derek is a professor here. He is a former student-athlete who played soccer here, then later played it professionally. He teaches in the education department, works with their master's program there as well as with undergraduates, and teaches on campus.

The advisers he has hired and has brought in are so much more knowledgeable about the university and of the system of classes. They have a great relationship with professors on campus, and provide us with updates. They work closely with us on our "academic game plan" which is where the coaches get intimately involved with the kids' academics. This approach has brought on a new level of accountability, both to the player and to the coach.

Having the player's own position coach directly involved is huge.

Yes it certainly is. And for the coaches too, because they know that when they're recruiting a kid, it's not just 'we're going to help you out academically and make sure that gets done.' It's 'I'm going to be meeting with you three times a week and looking at your notes, looking at your papers, making sure you're getting it done.' I'm going to make sure that you get your degree and you get through here.

No doubt some of the student-athletes who come in here are under-prepared, and many [of those] wouldn't have a chance of getting into a university like this and getting the academic opportunity. But they thrive once they're here and learn they can get it done, provided we give them those resources and teach them good study skills.

Ted Robinson has been the Stanford Cardinal radio broadcaster for years. Recently on a KNBR broadcast he started ripping on Cal, saying the reason for Cal's success at football is because they are bringing in athletes that couldn't have made it here in an earlier era.

The reality of it is, winning football games has given us the luxury of being much more selective in who we bring into this football family. We have raised the bar on every level, on the caliber of athlete we're bringing in, on the caliber of student we're bringing in, and the type of person we're bringing in. With very few exceptions, you will never read about one of our guys getting into trouble. And the fact is that the University has raised our admission standards. They've gone up twice since I've been here in a year and a half.

Are Cal's standards the same as at, say, UCLA or Oregon?

I can't speak to what the other schools are. But I do know of two guys, just offhand, where we've had recruits that we couldn't get in - but they got into Stanford.

Talk about how you evaluate character, families, and so on.

When a recruit comes here for a visit, as a staff we meet afterwards to evaluate it. This is one of things I really appreciate about Coach Tedford: a recruit could be a phenomenal blue-chip athlete prospect, but if even one assistant coach or recruiting coordinator, or anyone on staff, had a negative experience with them during the visit, we stop recruiting him. We had a quarterback recruit last year who got into a bit of trouble and that was it.

Do you tell recruits, at the beginning of the recruiting process, that Cal will be following their careers and lives closely?

Yes, though we're not doing a background check in the way that the NFL does when they're looking to give a guy a couple million dollars. But we're definitely talking to their high school counselors, and through the recruiting process you get to know their family, their parents, and their situation and background. A big factor is their high school coach, as well.

The three things we're really looking at are their athletic ability, their academic ability, and then just them as a human being, what type of person this is. I've seen coach turn away people who were great academically and athletically but were troublemakers.

Or maybe they were just guys who wouldn't fit in here. And I've seen people who totally got along well and that were great athletes, but were struggling academically. You know what, it's not fair to bring a kid in here who's not going to survive. And maybe there are other players who are a little sub-par athletically and have the rest of it together. We have to look for the total package with these guys.

Perhaps that raises another question: for many, Berkeley can be a strange place.

Yes, very. [Laughs.]

The Bay Area in general is unusual, but Berkeley specifically is a strange place. There's so much variety in ethnicity, in religions, cultures; everything that you could imagine is around here. Some guys might come into this town, look around, and say, 'Get me out of here.'

There's no question -; and we find ways to ask about that. That's another area where there's a huge difference between Stanford and us, the type of student at this school and the environment that you're in here. It's one of the things, from our standpoint, that is a benefit [for people] coming here - where we are located and the diversity. We're in the city. We don't have a big, spread-out campus that's kind of quiet and set back. We're in the city and there's a lot of hubbub.

The way I always describe it is, the things that you love about Berkeley can also be the things that can drive you nuts. You love the fact that people are protesting and singing and are able to do these things. Just some of the crazy characters on campus you see out there preaching and everything, you love that. And at the same time, other things can get a little irritating, like the bureaucracy here.

When we bring these recruits in, we try to give them the Berkeley experience. We let them know that, look, the challenges you are going to face coming here, like cultures, academics, even parking…if where you want to be is someplace that is quiet or rural, this isn't that place. We're 20 minutes from downtown San Francisco, 10 minutes from downtown Oakland, in the middle of everything. And there are a lot of things going on. You can be a part of it, but it's not for everyone - we definitely recognize that.

Sometimes we see some kids come through who we think would get eaten alive. We don't want a kid who's a great athlete and a great student and a good person who's going to come in here and just get gobbled up and go by the wayside. Obviously, when we're bringing these guys in, whether they're a [high] caliber athlete or a walk-on place-kicker - we want them here for the full four or five years, contributing to the program.

The cost of losing a player after a year or two has got to be huge.

Yes, and on a lot of different levels. It kills you with recruiting if you have not been able to support someone. Say you were a big prospect from, to make an example, De La Salle, and you went to Cal - and everyone at that school knows that you left after a year or two here. When later there's another great athlete coming out of that school, we have a lot of history to fight.

Early in Coach Tedford's career here, he talked about recruiting players that "belonged" at Berkeley. Previous coaches have said similar things but that seems to be more important now.

I think it definitely is. Again, it goes into all of those phases. It goes into being able to be selective. When we're looking at a certain guy from a physical or a football perspective, it might be completely different from what they're looking at across the bay. We're definitely looking for a hard-nosed kid that plays our style of football and, for us, the Berkeley type.

We believe we're bringing in tough kids who are not going to be physically outmatched or beaten on the field. That's one philosophy that Coach Tedford brings: if the kids aren't mentally and physically tough, they are not going to be here.

You have said you are directly involved in recruiting. Do you try to get an early assessment of each recruit?

Yes. I assess their recruitability from an academic level. I get all the transcripts and evaluate them, look them over, consult with our admissions people and people down in compliance, to make sure this is someone we can continue recruiting.

Then, when they're here, I'm responsible for the academic portion of their visit, which is a substantial portion. We try to get them with professors, meetings with the advisers and counselors, and then give them a rundown of what our academic game plan is and what's going to be expected of them when they're here.

We're very forthcoming about how this is a research institution. You're going to do a lot of homework. You're going to learn how to read tough material and to write very well when you are here. We don't want these guys to have any misconceptions. You're not going to get the breaks here that you may get at some other schools.

I have friends who played at other Pac-10 schools and other schools across the country, and it's still, "oh, you play football, you get some breaks." You don't get that here. If anything, it's the opposite. A lot of our student-athletes hide the fact in the classroom that they're student-athletes because they don't want to be treated in a different way by a professor, or by their fellow classmates.
The good news, especially this year, is that we're really starting to see that the majority of our big recruits and our commitments are phenomenal students. These are bright, bright, guys. This is making my job a lot easier, and it's going to make admissions much easier, not having to battle anything for these guys. Many could get into school on their own. They're players who want to be here for the academics. Because really, there isn't another program in the country that is a top-10 academic school and a top-10 football school.

Michigan, maybe?

Michigan, if you're talking public universities, they're #2 or #3, next to Virginia and us.

That's elite company indeed. Thank you, Mark, for the time you've taken to give us the background on these issues; you're doing a great job.

Most welcome. Go Bears!

Publsiher's note: The Bear Insider magazine is published 10 times a year, and is mailed each month to subscribers to this website.


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","mobileBody":"The article:

Recruiting inevitably involves academics. Recruits not only have to meet Cal's admission requirements, they also have to have the kind of character needed to succeed at Cal, especially when the academic and football going gets tough.

Academic ability and character are important to the Cal football staff as well. A recruit who enters the program and occupies a scholarship for a year or two of intensive training and coaching, but then leaves, represents a huge cost for the program - not only because of the loss of the player himself but also because some other talented athlete didn't get his chance to be at Cal.

So as we discuss the recruiting class of the 2007 in this issue of The Bear Insider, we also take a behind-the-scenes look at how \"academic recruiting\" plays into the process. It's also useful to remember that the processes and policies described here are often of utmost importance to the parents of recruits who are assisting their son in making an important life decision. Thus \"academic recruiting\" is a key cornerstone of future recruiting success.

As Mark Jensen, who heads Student-Athlete Development for the football program, says in the following interview, Cal's success on the field in recent years has allowed the Bears to become even more selective in recruiting. It's a rare thing indeed to be invited to a school that is both in the top 10 academically and potentially now in the top 10 in football as well.

This interview took place in Mark's office at Memorial Stadium during mid-December 2006, with oak tree protesters outside just down the hill - and before the end of recruiting for the 2007 class.

Mark, let's talk about graduation rates first. How are they measured?

It's interesting - it depends on whom you are talking to. That's one of the areas I work on - collecting our numbers and our graduation rates, and analyzing them in various ways.

For example, the American Football Coaches Association, the AFCA, produces a graduation rate, but they only take certain things into account, and do it differently than the GSR (the Graduation Success Rate), one of the NCAA rates. And now, we have the new APR as well (the Academic Progress Rate).

The APR is the new guideline the NCAA is using. That's the one that caused Arizona to have scholarships taken away this past year because they didn't reach the minimum level. We think it's the most accurate measure of graduation rate success.

What kinds of things do they take into account? One takes into account every freshman that comes in -; but counts a transfer or a graduation from another school against us. That one also doesn't take into account players who transferred in and then graduated here. Another rate may take into account everyone we brought in, whether they were scholarship or walk-on, and compare that against who graduated. And yet another may look at just the kids who are eligible to graduate and compare that against actual graduations out of that group.

What does it mean to say that someone is \"not eligible\" to graduate?

Well, for example, over the last two seasons, we've graduated every senior from this team except for eight players, all whom are now in the NFL. So everyone who had the potential to graduate either did or they're playing in the NFL. Now, if I go back four or five years to their incoming class, we might have lost some of those players along the way, and that could affect that class's graduation rate. So, for different groups, there are different graduation rates.

It kind of depends on whom you're speaking with and which rate you're talking about. The flaws that most people talk about are when a system doesn't take into account incoming junior college transfers, or those players who leave the program but legitimately transfer to another school.

And even if they graduate there.

Yes, that's right. Right now I think that our current GSR (looking back) is officially 47 percent. But that was because we went through a period of new athletic directors, a coaching change, and a 1-10 season that drove a lot of people out.

With Coach [Jeff] Tedford coming in and really raising the academic bar, [he has been] cutting out all the slack in the old ways of doing things.

A lot of it is staggered, when these rates come out and when they're published. We feel that if you look at it since Coach Tedford has been here, what we've done and what he has done, we're definitely moving in the right direction, getting to where we need to be. For example, the so-called current GSR rate will go up to 76 percent next year. We already have the data in hand to know that.

There's a Stanford website called The Bootleg that enjoys publishing graduation rates comparing Stanford against Cal and other Pac-10 opponents. They're currently showing the 47% rate for Cal.

Yes, and it's based on the years 2000-2003. It's three years old. That's the somewhat unfortunate thing with these measures of players who graduated in the period between 2000 and 2003. They came to Cal in 1996 to 1998, which was completely prior to [the current] staff and what we're doing now.

However, as I mentioned earlier, the Academic Progress Rate is the new measure that the NCAA is using as the standard and holding us to.

What the APR does is give you a max of two points for every student-athlete-semester. You get one point for retention plus one point for eligibility. So, if you're a student, and you were here in the fall, and you passed 12 units, and you come back in the spring, you're both eligible and we've retained you, so you're a 2-for-2.

For one year, a single player can give us four points.

But if you passed your units and then declared for the NFL and left early, you're a) eligible so we get one point, but you left, so we do not get b) the point for retaining you.

If you passed four units but didn't pass six (the definition of 'full-time') and you came back, you're a) not eligible (-1), but we retained you (+1). And if you fail out of school, we are -2.

The APR takes those numbers and averages them over a three-year period. So whenever a score is published, it is an average of the three prior years.

So it's what the stock market calls a lagging indicator that slowly moves in the direction you are traveling.

Yes. Because using an average takes into account that in one year that you may get hurt a little bit, or you may have a bad number due to unusual circumstances.

That's fair.

So, what they're doing now is, they've up set this measure per sport. We have to achieve a score of a 925 (where 1,000 represents a perfect score for however many players we have). If you do not achieve 925, you will have scholarships taken away.

The first year the score came out was last year. I think Stanford was No.1 and we were No.2 in the Pac-10. We had like a 940, and they were like a 970 or a 980, I believe. Arizona, for example, was down near like 820 or something, so they had seven scholarships removed from football, and four from baseball.

Is this APR the first time that there's actually been a significant penalty, like the loss of scholarships?

Yes, the first time.

That puts real teeth into it.

Yes, it really puts teeth into it. They're serious about you retaining your student athletes and helping them graduate. It's looking at everyone on scholarship. We're going to lose points for a kid who transfers - because we didn't retain them. On the other hand, a guy who comes in to replace him will get added to the system so there is a balancing factor.

Does the system ignore walk-ons?

Yes, it ignores walk-ons.

How are you doing against this measure?

The rates for this year will be very good, but they haven't been officially released yet.

If you can hit a few highlights, how does Cal football rank with other Cal sports?

Very comparable. We are, I would say, in the upper tier. There were only two sports at Cal that had a perfect score this last year, men's golf and women's rowing. Baseball was a 975, gymnastics was below us, and soccer was below us.

One aspect of the APR system does seem a bit odd. I can think of several quite legitimate reasons where a student might leave school -; sometimes just temporarily.

Well, yes, there are exceptions. For example, if a person is LDS and goes on a mission, or serves in the military, we would not be penalized. But, if a player leaves early to go to the NFL, or transfers, or is dismissed from school, we lose that point.

I can understand being dismissed from school as having a negative impact. But, going to the NFL?

Yes, I wonder about that too. The simple reality of it is, that's part of the reason they're here, to [not only] get a degree but to play football, perhaps professionally. But still, I think the NCAA is moving in the right direction [by] saying that academics are important. This is their way of backing it up.

The APR rates are computed annually and published each spring?

Yes, though the fact is we already know what our scores are because they are calculated through last year.

Each school would probably do that too because they'd want as much advance notice as possible.

Yes. It's a very good idea to know what's going on. This is really the measure that we care about now. Obviously, the GSR is important, and that fluctuates every year. Like I said, next year it's going to be at about 76 percent. I think we know what it will be the year after that and the year after that, too, already - next year it will dip down to something like 68% then go back up to somewhere around 85%.

How is the GSR calculated?

It is based on who you brought in as freshmen and how many graduated, counting scholarship players only. So, if a player goes to the NFL or if they transferred out, or whatever -; that decreases our score. The GSR doesn't look at your JC guys at all - it's strictly the freshman class and who made it through.

Now, when I look back at these old numbers, that was my class. Those were my teammates. There were a lot of different reasons why a lot of them left. A lot of it had to do with playing time, they wanted to go somewhere where they were going to play. Some of them were tired of losing. Some couldn't survive academically.

The position that I'm in now, I can see firsthand what we're doing with these guys, versus what it was eight or nine years ago. It's night and day better. The level of support that we now offer ...

Let's talk about that level of support for a minute. Maybe two years ago I did an interview with Dave Ortega about a lot of the detail stuff the team used, the workbooks, the charts, the record keeping, tracking classes and such. Give me your summary of that, looking at it both as a player and now as an administrator.

While I was here (before Dave Ortega), it was kind of sink or swim. You were thrown into the water, and either you learned how to swim or you didn't. And what I mean by that was, we had academic advisers, but there wasn't much advising going on. You basically chose your own classes your first couple of years here.

I was really on my own throughout that experience. I didn't have to report to anyone on a daily or weekly or monthly basis. It was just me doing it and getting it done, and I moved through it. It wasn't really until Tedford's first year here when he brought in his academic game plan.

We had tutors available back then but nothing was assigned to you, you only got that help if you went and requested it. Whereas now, the job that Derek Van Rheenan has done down there with that study center has probably been one of the biggest differences.

Coach Tedford has brought in the academic game plan and Derek Van Rheenan has taken over down there and has really done a fabulous job with the advisers he has hired. It's to a point now where these guys come in, and they're meeting three or four times a week with their advisers, either down in their office or up here at \"game plan\". The advisers are contacting all the professors and are getting updates on how these kids are doing in their classes.

In an earlier era football staff wasn't allowed to contact the professors.

And we're not now either. That's one benefit of the way our athletic advising and the study center is set up. It's not from within the athletic program. They're housed under the University. So they, as advisers, can contact [professors].

So the academic study center, is part of the university -; to whom is it available?

The academic study center is available to everyone. Within the center there is also a \"student-athlete academic study center\". They have a computer lab and they have their own set of advisers, along with their major advisers who are housed elsewhere on campus.

Could you tell us a bit about Derek Van Rheenan?

Derek is a professor here. He is a former student-athlete who played soccer here, then later played it professionally. He teaches in the education department, works with their master's program there as well as with undergraduates, and teaches on campus.

The advisers he has hired and has brought in are so much more knowledgeable about the university and of the system of classes. They have a great relationship with professors on campus, and provide us with updates. They work closely with us on our \"academic game plan\" which is where the coaches get intimately involved with the kids' academics. This approach has brought on a new level of accountability, both to the player and to the coach.

Having the player's own position coach directly involved is huge.

Yes it certainly is. And for the coaches too, because they know that when they're recruiting a kid, it's not just 'we're going to help you out academically and make sure that gets done.' It's 'I'm going to be meeting with you three times a week and looking at your notes, looking at your papers, making sure you're getting it done.' I'm going to make sure that you get your degree and you get through here.

No doubt some of the student-athletes who come in here are under-prepared, and many [of those] wouldn't have a chance of getting into a university like this and getting the academic opportunity. But they thrive once they're here and learn they can get it done, provided we give them those resources and teach them good study skills.

Ted Robinson has been the Stanford Cardinal radio broadcaster for years. Recently on a KNBR broadcast he started ripping on Cal, saying the reason for Cal's success at football is because they are bringing in athletes that couldn't have made it here in an earlier era.

The reality of it is, winning football games has given us the luxury of being much more selective in who we bring into this football family. We have raised the bar on every level, on the caliber of athlete we're bringing in, on the caliber of student we're bringing in, and the type of person we're bringing in. With very few exceptions, you will never read about one of our guys getting into trouble. And the fact is that the University has raised our admission standards. They've gone up twice since I've been here in a year and a half.

Are Cal's standards the same as at, say, UCLA or Oregon?

I can't speak to what the other schools are. But I do know of two guys, just offhand, where we've had recruits that we couldn't get in - but they got into Stanford.

Talk about how you evaluate character, families, and so on.

When a recruit comes here for a visit, as a staff we meet afterwards to evaluate it. This is one of things I really appreciate about Coach Tedford: a recruit could be a phenomenal blue-chip athlete prospect, but if even one assistant coach or recruiting coordinator, or anyone on staff, had a negative experience with them during the visit, we stop recruiting him. We had a quarterback recruit last year who got into a bit of trouble and that was it.

Do you tell recruits, at the beginning of the recruiting process, that Cal will be following their careers and lives closely?

Yes, though we're not doing a background check in the way that the NFL does when they're looking to give a guy a couple million dollars. But we're definitely talking to their high school counselors, and through the recruiting process you get to know their family, their parents, and their situation and background. A big factor is their high school coach, as well.

The three things we're really looking at are their athletic ability, their academic ability, and then just them as a human being, what type of person this is. I've seen coach turn away people who were great academically and athletically but were troublemakers.

Or maybe they were just guys who wouldn't fit in here. And I've seen people who totally got along well and that were great athletes, but were struggling academically. You know what, it's not fair to bring a kid in here who's not going to survive. And maybe there are other players who are a little sub-par athletically and have the rest of it together. We have to look for the total package with these guys.

Perhaps that raises another question: for many, Berkeley can be a strange place.

Yes, very. [Laughs.]

The Bay Area in general is unusual, but Berkeley specifically is a strange place. There's so much variety in ethnicity, in religions, cultures; everything that you could imagine is around here. Some guys might come into this town, look around, and say, 'Get me out of here.'

There's no question -; and we find ways to ask about that. That's another area where there's a huge difference between Stanford and us, the type of student at this school and the environment that you're in here. It's one of the things, from our standpoint, that is a benefit [for people] coming here - where we are located and the diversity. We're in the city. We don't have a big, spread-out campus that's kind of quiet and set back. We're in the city and there's a lot of hubbub.

The way I always describe it is, the things that you love about Berkeley can also be the things that can drive you nuts. You love the fact that people are protesting and singing and are able to do these things. Just some of the crazy characters on campus you see out there preaching and everything, you love that. And at the same time, other things can get a little irritating, like the bureaucracy here.

When we bring these recruits in, we try to give them the Berkeley experience. We let them know that, look, the challenges you are going to face coming here, like cultures, academics, even parking…if where you want to be is someplace that is quiet or rural, this isn't that place. We're 20 minutes from downtown San Francisco, 10 minutes from downtown Oakland, in the middle of everything. And there are a lot of things going on. You can be a part of it, but it's not for everyone - we definitely recognize that.

Sometimes we see some kids come through who we think would get eaten alive. We don't want a kid who's a great athlete and a great student and a good person who's going to come in here and just get gobbled up and go by the wayside. Obviously, when we're bringing these guys in, whether they're a [high] caliber athlete or a walk-on place-kicker - we want them here for the full four or five years, contributing to the program.

The cost of losing a player after a year or two has got to be huge.

Yes, and on a lot of different levels. It kills you with recruiting if you have not been able to support someone. Say you were a big prospect from, to make an example, De La Salle, and you went to Cal - and everyone at that school knows that you left after a year or two here. When later there's another great athlete coming out of that school, we have a lot of history to fight.

Early in Coach Tedford's career here, he talked about recruiting players that \"belonged\" at Berkeley. Previous coaches have said similar things but that seems to be more important now.

I think it definitely is. Again, it goes into all of those phases. It goes into being able to be selective. When we're looking at a certain guy from a physical or a football perspective, it might be completely different from what they're looking at across the bay. We're definitely looking for a hard-nosed kid that plays our style of football and, for us, the Berkeley type.

We believe we're bringing in tough kids who are not going to be physically outmatched or beaten on the field. That's one philosophy that Coach Tedford brings: if the kids aren't mentally and physically tough, they are not going to be here.

You have said you are directly involved in recruiting. Do you try to get an early assessment of each recruit?

Yes. I assess their recruitability from an academic level. I get all the transcripts and evaluate them, look them over, consult with our admissions people and people down in compliance, to make sure this is someone we can continue recruiting.

Then, when they're here, I'm responsible for the academic portion of their visit, which is a substantial portion. We try to get them with professors, meetings with the advisers and counselors, and then give them a rundown of what our academic game plan is and what's going to be expected of them when they're here.

We're very forthcoming about how this is a research institution. You're going to do a lot of homework. You're going to learn how to read tough material and to write very well when you are here. We don't want these guys to have any misconceptions. You're not going to get the breaks here that you may get at some other schools.

I have friends who played at other Pac-10 schools and other schools across the country, and it's still, \"oh, you play football, you get some breaks.\" You don't get that here. If anything, it's the opposite. A lot of our student-athletes hide the fact in the classroom that they're student-athletes because they don't want to be treated in a different way by a professor, or by their fellow classmates.
The good news, especially this year, is that we're really starting to see that the majority of our big recruits and our commitments are phenomenal students. These are bright, bright, guys. This is making my job a lot easier, and it's going to make admissions much easier, not having to battle anything for these guys. Many could get into school on their own. They're players who want to be here for the academics. Because really, there isn't another program in the country that is a top-10 academic school and a top-10 football school.

Michigan, maybe?

Michigan, if you're talking public universities, they're #2 or #3, next to Virginia and us.

That's elite company indeed. Thank you, Mark, for the time you've taken to give us the background on these issues; you're doing a great job.

Most welcome. Go Bears!

Publsiher's note: The Bear Insider magazine is published 10 times a year, and is mailed each month to subscribers to this website.


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