Getting athletes on the course for a college degree gets more than lip service at Ohio State, a fact that extends to the sport of football.
Over the past few years, the academic progress of Jim Tressel's team has been noted, with the Buckeyes hovering around a 3.00 team grade-point average during the past few seasons.
In addition, the Buckeyes' score on the gridiron in the latest Academic Progress Rate reports released by the NCAA was third in the Big Ten behind just Penn State and Northwestern. In late May, wideout Brian Robiskie – twice a finalist for the Arthur Ashe Sports Scholar of the Year Award – was OSU's male recipient of the Big Ten Medal of Honor, which goes to the athlete in each gender at each league school that best combines
According to former Ohio State defensive lineman David Patterson, honors such as those are no mistake.
"They always wanted to let you know that you're a student-athlete first even though you get a lot of athletic demands placed upon you," Patterson said. "I think our university and our team really took pride and continue to take pride in our academics and our graduation rate and things of that sort. I think the biggest thing that Tressel does a good job of is trying to recruit quality guys that education is important to them.
"Guys like myself or guys like Roy Hall or Brandon Mitchell or Marcus Green or Jay Richardson, Joel Penton, all of those guys have their degree, and those are guys when they came in, they knew the value of education. I think it also has a lot to do with the quality of recruits that Ohio State brings in. They're bringing in guys that are truly student-athletes or guys that truly do have academic records in high school."
What those athletes find is a program that has their interests in mind when it comes to getting a degree – even if they end up leaving before receiving their diploma in order to play professionally.
The Degree Completion Program is part of those efforts. Operated through the Student-Athlete Support Services Office and sponsored nationwide by the National Consortium of Athletics in Sports, the DCP provides free tuition as well as tutoring and academic advising.
Stipulations include that the athlete is within 45 credit hours of graduating, has exhausted athletic eligibility, was on an athletic scholarship at OSU and compiled at least a 2.00 cumulative grade-point average.
Players such as Patterson, Green and many others – ranging from basketball stars Clark Kellogg and Katie Smith to more gridiron Buckeyes like Mike Nugent and Michael Wiley – have taken completed studies through the Degree Completion Program.
Though the program has been operating at Ohio State since the mid-1990s, it has undergone a recent formalization over the past few years and has been ranked among the best programs in college sports. It has also become part of Ohio State's recruiting chip when talking to prospective student-athletes.
"I have football and hockey, and in the back of their mind even as an 11th grader, ‘I'm thinking about going to the next level,' " said SASSO counselor John Macko, who works with those in the Degree Completion Program. "It's a commitment academically to them and they know it's something they could use later on in life."
Such an approach can pay dividends on the recruiting trail, Cincinnati Princeton head coach Bill Leach said.
Leach, who coaches current recruit Spencer Ware and once employed former OSU wideout Thad Jemison – who recently completed his studies in the Degree Completion Program – as an assistant on his Princeton staff, spoke highly of the program offered at OSU as well as a number of schools, including Big Ten teams Wisconsin and Michigan State.
"When I talk to my kids, the high school kids, that's one of the things we always talk about in recruiting process to make sure they are going to a place where they will make sure you get a degree," Leach said. "When you hear about schools that have these kinds of programs, to me that's huge, because we all get accused of using kids for our own means, and nobody wants that reputation that you're just using kids to win football games, so when a school has that kind of thing, it's important."