A major data point in Tressel's favor, then, came down Tuesday afternoon when the NCAA announced that his program received public recognition for having a multiyear Academic Progress Rate (APR) in the top 10 percent of Division I-A football programs.
According to the Ohio State release, "The APR provides a real-time look at a team's academic success each semester by tracking the academic progress of each student-athlete on scholarship. The APR accounts for eligibility, retention and graduation and provides a measure of each team's academic performance. The most recent APR scores are multiyear rates based on the scores from the 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10 academic years."
While the formula is a bit tricky to explain – with each player earning a points to the team total for staying eligible and staying in school – the key number to keep in mind when it comes to APR is 925, which roughly corresponds to a graduation rate of 50 percent inside of a program. Any program falling short of that number is subject to NCAA penalties.
And that's exactly the number Ohio State fell on when the first APR was released by the NCAA in 2006. Those multiyear APR included seasons from 2001-02 to 2004-05, a time in which Tressel was still establishing his own program and had some players inherited from a previous regime.
The football APR ticked up to 928 in 2007 before making major leaps to 942 in '08 and 968 in '09, putting Ohio State among the academic elite in the NCAA. Last year, OSU's APR of 975 from 2005-06 through 2008-09 placed the school second in the Big Ten behind Northwestern (986), while its single-year APR of 991 was sterling.
However, OSU had not received a public recognition from the NCAA – which goes to the top 10 percent of programs – until this season, the first in which the NCAA has separated FBS and FCS programs. The public recognition is announced a week before the full APR report comes out May 24.
Ohio State's football APR number for the year won't be released until then, but at the very least OSU will have an APR of at least 977, according to the school's release.
Other schools in FBS to receive public recognition were Boise State, Clemson, Duke, Middle Tennessee State, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Rice, Rutgers, Stanford, Air Force, Navy, Miami (Fla.) and Vanderbilt, many of which are among the most decorated academic institutions in the country.
Factoring in football success, then, it's clear that OSU is also one of the best programs at marrying on-field and classroom achievement. Stanford is the only other school of the group to reach a BCS bowl last year, while Boise State was the only other program to achieve a top-10 ranking at any point a season ago.
In addition, six members of the 2010 team – Bryant Browning, Garrett Hummel, Chris Malone, Jake McQuaide, Andrew Miller and Scott Sika – were recently named to the National Football Foundation's Hampshire Honor Society, which recognized players who completed their careers with a cumulative GPA of 3.2 or higher. That total matched Indiana for the most in the Big Ten.
Tressel has always preached the importance of work in the classroom, and this data shows it's clearly not empty talk. The bottom line is that Ohio State's academic performance is unique among college football powers and will certainly be a data point in Tressel's favor when discussing his current situation with the NCAA during the summer.
In another interesting note about Big Ten APR data, Ohio State was one of seven schools to see its APR go up each of the previous five seasons – which would seem to indicate not only how seriously the league takes academic performance but how important schools are taking the NCAA's focus on academics. With the threat of punishment – including crucial scholarship losses among other penalties – the NCAA has forced the issue and made schools focus more on the classroom.
Of the four conference schools to not see improvement each of the five years, Iowa and Penn State boast good academic performance and have been safely on the right side of the APR line all along. The only outliers have been Michigan, which struggled with retention when Rich Rodriguez was in charge, and Minnesota, which ran into similar problems with the regime change to Tim Brewster and even was docked scholarships two years ago. Expect Brady Hoke and Jerry Kill to make academics a focus at their respective schools.
Lastly, credit must go out to the other OSU programs to receive public recognition – baseball, men's gymnastics, men's tennis and women's tennis. Men's tennis received the honor for the third straight year, another feather in the cap of a program that has also reached the NCAA round of 16 for the sixth straight season.
Women's tennis has also received public recognition for the second straight year, credit that must go to head coach Chuck Merzbacher. Baseball, meanwhile, received the honor for the third time in four years, one more achievement for the lengthy career of Hall of Fame coach Bob Todd.