Don Hoekwater - Scout

Commentary: Tomey's legacy lives on with academic accomplishments

San Jose State is maintaining academic stability, just over a decade removed from football sanctions.

On Apr. 20, the NCAA released the newest Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores for its member institutions covering the four academic years up to 2014-15. In San Jose State, five teams reached or matched historically high scores, and three programs won NCAA Public Recognition Awards for sustaining multi-year, perfect 1000 scores. Both men’s and women’s cross country teams and women’s water polo had the perfect APR’s. Additionally, women’s track and field had a record high 984 and women’s basketball a record high 972.

Football had a 964 APR, down from last year’s 975 APR that earned the team bowl eligibility but still the highest among the three California State University FBS football programs. Last season, there were not enough teams with 6-6 or better records to fill all available bowl spots, so the remaining bowl spots were issued to 5-7 teams based on APR scores. San Jose State’s 975 was fourth among 5-7 teams’ APR scores; because Missouri declined a bowl invitation, San Jose State ultimately made the Cure Bowl. Men’s basketball, a year removed from APR sanctions that preceded a two-win season in 2014-15, was one point above the satisfactory threshold with a 931 score. The transfers of three players in 2015 cost San Jose State some APR points and limited the APR improvement.

San Jose State athletics set new records for academic honors. The university named a record 59 student-athletes President’s or Dean’s Scholars this year. To qualify, student-athletes must have had a 3.65 or better GPA for at least two of the three semesters from Fall 2014 to Fall 2015; a 4.0 for those semesters qualifies for the President’s Scholar award. Also, a record 23 student-athletes were named Arthur Ashe, Jr. Sports Scholars, for a combination of good grades and community service. For the fourth consecutive year, a football student-athlete was inducted in the National Football Foundation's Hampshire Honor Society.

These academic accomplishments are part of an intercollegiate athletics program for which the university community can be proud. Alumni donors see their money being put to good use. Parents of prospective student-athletes see that their children will be surrounded by high-performing students who are preparing well for their futures. San Jose State also did its part in pushing back against the “dumb jock” myth.

Contrast these positive events of now with past decades:

- “In the 1980s, only 7 percent of San Jose State University football recruits graduated within a five-year period.” —San Jose Mercury News, Apr. 28, 1991

- “Figures released by [athletic director Randy] Hoffman state eight of 46 players who played for [men’s basketball coach Bill] Berry and aren't currently on scholarship have graduated. Fourteen others are still in good standing with SJS. Seven left school on probation, and 17 were disqualified as students.” —San Jose Mercury News, Mar. 25, 1989

- “The Spartans graduated 36 percent of their [football] players, compared with 17 percent in 2001 and 21 percent in 2002.” —San Jose Mercury News, Oct. 26, 2004

At the end of 2004, San Jose State had completed a housecleaning of its leadership that began in August with the appointment of Don Kassing as interim president. By December, both athletic director Chuck Bell and football coach Fitz Hill were out, replaced by Tom Bowen and Dick Tomey. Soon, they received notice from the NCAA that football and other sports would be deducted scholarships due to unsatisfactory APR’s.  By March 2005, the athletics program established an academics/student success services division that featured “four full-time professionals dedicated to enhancing the academic achievement of our student-athletes in all sports.”

Having inherited a team that won just two games in 2004, Tomey led Spartan football to a 9-4 record with a New Mexico Bowl title in 2006. However, throughout his five-year tenure as head coach, Tomey never had a full number of scholarships to give, due to the APR issues from Hill’s tenure. The lack of depth showed, as San Jose State could not repeat the success of the 2006 season. In 2007, San Jose State finished 5-7, with two losses that were by one possession, including a nationally televised home loss in overtime to a ranked Hawaii. San Jose State improved to 6-6 in 2008, but that season ended with a three-game losing streak. 2009, Tomey’s final season, had a 2-10 record that included a 62-7 thrashing at Spartan Stadium by a Nevada team that featured Colin Kaepernick. Only by 2011, Mike MacIntyre’s second year as head coach, did the football program have a full 85 scholarships.

Yes, Tomey went 2-13 in his final 15 games as San Jose State coach. Bowen might have made a huge mistake in hiring (and retaining for eight years) George Nessman as the men’s basketball coach. Their biggest contribution to Spartan athletics, however, is prominently visible a decade after their hiring: the academic success of this and recent years. If not for their leadership, San Jose State football would have spiraled further down the hole and possibly beaten Idaho as the first school that quit FBS. The “Spartans 4 Sanity” crowd would have been vindicated in their belief that football was a drag on the university. (Similar movements to downgrade football from FBS have happened this year at Eastern Michigan and UMass.) Instead, student-athletes have become positive contributors to the San Jose State experience, a lasting legacy that overshadows the disappointing second half of Tomey’s coaching tenure.

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