VETTEL: Gator Athletes Making The Grade

Recently, the NCAA released statistics on how members institutions performed in the "graduation success rate." The GSR is more meaningful number than graduation rates alone. The Florida Gators finished second in the SEC with a GSR of 91 percent overall, trailing --- you guessed it --- Vanderbilt with a score of 93 (Men 90%, Women 99%).

Florida male student-athletes entering the fall of '98 succeeded 86 percent of the time while the Gator women were a remarkable 97 percent. For a comparison Tennessee was at 71 percent overall (M 57%, W 91%). Georgia scored a 65 percent (M 50%, W 86%) while Florida State had 78 percent success (M 68 %, W 92 %). The lowest SEC school was Arkansas with a 60 percent overall rate (M 48%, W 77%).

Why GSR is a Better Measure

When published graduation rates reflected poorly on most major college sports programs there was a great deal of complaining. School officials insisted, and I agreed, that using graduation rates to measure the success of student-athletes was an inadequate tool. For example, all players leaving early for pro sports counted against your graduation rate. All players who transferred to other schools counted against you. If a student-athlete left school for any reason it hurts your graduation rate.

The Graduation Success Rate was created to better measure the "success" of student-athletes entering an institution. If Mike Miller is in good academic standing and turns pro he is a success. If a student-athlete leaves school in good academic standing he/she is a success. However if a student-athletes exhausts his/her eligibility and fails to graduate within six years, that counts against you.

That's a much fairer and more useful measure of whether the student-athlete has "succeeded" at an institution. If a kid chooses to leave, but is making progress your school deserves credit. If an athlete uses up his/her ability to compete for a school yet does not finish up academically; it should count against you.

For example, UF students entering in fall of '98 graduated at a 78 percent clip while student-athletes entering at the same time graduated just 54 percent of the time. But when you factor in the other issues, some of which are unique to athletics, Florida student-athletes end up with the 91 percent GSR. Certainly similar calculations for the general student body would also result in a much higher GSR for all students. But the gap would be dramatically smaller and certainly more representative.

Sure, it may seem unfair if a senior in football skips the spring semester to prepare for combines and such, gets drafted and make an NFL team that's not viewed as a "success". But the key here is holding school accountable to not only keeping that athlete on target to graduate but motivating him to finish the deal. I find nothing wrong with that.

Why This is Important

I believe GSR will become a recruiting tool for schools in the future as they show parents they job they are doing helping their kids "succeed." It respects all levels of success and punishes the right thing … student-athletes who use up competitive eligibility without completing their degree requirements.

GSR is also a great internal measuring stick for school administrators and alumni. While most graduates of Florida love to see the Gators do well competitively; I suspect every one of them wants to know legit students are taking legit classes toward a legit degree.

Bigger Academic Report Card Coming

While the GSR is a positive thing for Florida and many other schools, the more important numbers are coming out around March first. That is when the NCAA will release academic progress rates for each school. That will be more important, because failure to post satisfactory numbers there can cost schools scholarships and eventually post-season opportunities.

It remains to be seen if any school will be punished severely for failure to develop their student-athletes in the classroom. But one thing is clear. The era of the NON-STUDENT-athlete is drawing to a close. And not a day too soon.

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