October 22, 2008

Making the Grade

Some encouraging news drifted in during the bye week involving all Notre Dame student-athletes. The University ranks #1 overall in the country in terms of graduating its student-athletes. According to the graduation success rate (GSR), Notre Dame graduates 98% of its student-athletes offered financial aid within 6 years of enrolling. Among strictly football players, ND follows only Navy with a 94% GSR.

While some may pine for the ability to recruit and bring in the same athletes dotting the rosters of Florida, LSU, Texas and USC, what cost does the school ultimately pay? Notre Dame aspires to and upholds the importance of student-athletes. They assume responsibility for the kids matriculating through their halls, which honestly cannot be said at other top 25 schools. These players earn their degrees and, consequently, are better equipped to make a difference in the world. Can we have our cake and eat it too? Of course. But a pattern of graduation success should always be established first, not the other way around. I'm sure there may be plenty of opinions one way or the other on this subject and I welcome a good discourse. Frankly, it's not talked about enough.

On the topic of bearing responsibility for graduating players, I came across an intriguing article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. A snippet of the nuts and bolts from the two University of Oklahoma professors proposal reads:

We propose measuring coaches' success in recruiting student-athletes who succeed academically in college. We call that measure the Coaches' Graduation Rate. The CGR, determined by tracking the graduation rate of every athlete whom a coach recruits, would establish a standard of accountability for coaches...colleges and universities can make it clear that the academic life of the student is a central, not tangential, part of his or her life on the campus. Monitoring athletes' academic performance would signal that the institutional fit of a potential recruit is a real consideration, in addition to the student's athletics prowess.

A Coaches' Graduation Rate. Wow, that would make for a great PTI debate. Though it's hard to envision the NCAA endorsing something like this, it's thought-provoking nonetheless. I'll defer to Doug, Kevin and other esteemed esquires for an interpretation of the legality of such a policy. Would this consitute an invasion of privacy on any level? If the NCAA put their dollar-centric mode of thinking aside and actually passed legislation, this could become a reality.

I can't help but wonder what Bob Huggins' CGR would've been 5 years ago. He would have been unhirable. Would this tarnish the legacy of championship coaches like Dennis Erikson, Bob Stoops and Pete Carroll? I realize there's a difference between a kid flunking out or not earning enough credits with that of a player leaving school early for the pros. It's the equivalent of a pharmaceutical company swooping in and luring a 4.0 chemical engineering student before they graduated to work at the best labs in the world. The student would be a fool for not jumping at the opportunity. But, something tells me those pharma companies value a degree a wee bit more than the NBA or NFL. At the very least, a school would take on the onus of everyone in the country knowing they were selling their soul to the devil when they brought in retread coaches with a proven track record for not caring about the student part of the equation.

You know who would rank at the top of any historical CGR? The incomparable taskmaster Robert Montgomery Knight. A parting present for all you Knight fans - The General at his best.

Coach Knight probably just heard Greg Graham failed his biology quiz. Or Todd Lindeman turned in an English paper two days late. Perhaps Tom Coverdale fell a credit short of graduating. Or maybe the mere thought of Ted Valentine crept into his head. Sorry for the tangent.


OC Domer said...

Thanks for posting this! One of the things that makes me most proud to be a Domer is the fact that our student-athletes are real STUDENT athletes, not just mercenary athletes who happen to wear the colors of a particular school.

Stan said...


Doug said...

Wow, great news for the Irish! It certainly can't hurt that we can point to these statistics and all but guarantee that anyone who comes to ND is going to walk out of there with a degree after four years. As you pointed out, there are a lot of schools that can't make that same case to high school athletes.

Just curious, what was RMK's graduation rate?? Were there any infamous non-graduates??

Question about the CGR since I couldn't tell from reading the paragraph. What would the punishment be for coaches who don't meet the minimum CGR??

I'm sort of conflicted about that type of legislation. While I think it is a good idea to promote academics and graduation, I don't necessarily think that coaches should be the ones held entirely responsible for graduation rates. Ultimately, it is still up to the institution to graduate their players. ND athletes are not graduating because of Charlie Weis or Mike Brey. They are graduating because they are good kids and because ND as an institution values graduating their athletes.

Every school is different, and some schools have different missions than others. While it is great that there are schools like ND, Navy, Vandy, Duke, Northwestern, and Miami(Ohio) that place a premium on getting high quality kids and giving them a great education, there is also a place for city schools and other less prestigious schools that take chances on other kids that maybe have a more difficult time in school.

I know I'm one of the 5 Bob Huggins defenders still left on the planet, but he did a lot of good things for troubled kids at UC. Some of them didn't work out obviously and had highly-publicized problems with the law/school, but there were equally as many success stories at UC during the Huggins era. I can think of 15-20 people off the top of my head, and every single one of those people will say that they would have never succeeded if it wasn't for Bob Huggins. These are players who went on to graduate and did great things in the business world or law or whatever in the city of Cincinnati. Any system that would make Bob Huggins "unhireable" is probably not a system that I would support.

"Failing" to graduate all of your players is not necessarily an indication that a coach doesn't care about the education of his players. Heck, there are coaches with 60% graduation rates that have higher graduation rates than the general student body population.

There are definitely certain coaches that don't place any value on a student-athletes' education, but I'm a little leery of punishing coaches if they don't meet a minimum threshhold for graduating players. What happened to personal accountability?? Why is it the coaches' fault if the players don't follow through with their studies??

I'm aware that I'm probably in the minority among ND fans for this type of viewpoint, but that's just how I feel. Fire away if you disagree.

kevin said...

The CGR definitely would be intriguing, and I am DAMN proud that ND is what it is and does what it does. However, while not as big of a supporter of Huggy as Doug, I do echo Doug's thoughts on the issue a little. I think that one metric calculating a graduation rate is way too simplistic to capture the true attitudes and efforts of a school and sports program.

Some of these kids need to be given a chance. Some of these kids may WANT to come to school and learn. They may have been stuck with so-so parents, self-interested AAU-type coaches since middle school, in crappy school districts who are just happy if kids show up - let alone read a book, not exactly an environment conducive to academic success.

If the one thing a kid is good at is basketball or football, why not give him a chance? I know you could argue back and forth about this endlessly. But if the message is, "You are here because we are going to give you a chance to straighten your life, and prepare yourself to succeed in the long term by getting an education. If you don't share the focus, or you don't put forth the effort, you will be dismissed," then I am 100% in favor of taking some fliers on kids. And if you do that, some are going to work out, and some aren't, and a coaches CGR might be below some standard floor. IF the message is as set forth above (admittedly, that's usually not the case in the high-dollar world of NCAA sports), and IF the school and coaching staff are committed to providing resources to help the challenging kids succeed, then I'm perfectly comfortable with a program/coach with a low CGR.

It's a weird analogy, but I compare it to my law school. I went to the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), basically a "directional" affiliate of the University of Missouri in Columbia. The school is in the heart of the city, and has a rich history of cranking out the named partners from all of the local big firms, all the local judges, and even a Supreme Court justice. The teaching is wonderful, the atmosphere great, the price affordable. But we consistently have to battle to maintain our reputation outside the 4 or 5 state area because our US News rankings are low. The low US News rankings are due to money we can't get from the state legislature because they want to fund the crown jewel, MU-Columbia, computers and books we can't purchase because we don't have the money, and because our teachers are busy teaching instead of publishing.

In the last few years, there has been a push to increase the rankings, and they did that by trying to increase things they could control: entrance exam scores, and bar passage rates. Implementing programs to help bring bar passage rates up was awesome, and has worked wonderfully. The problem is, they also looked at past data, specifically, who was not passing, and made a systematic push to either not admit that category of person, or flunk them out before they could sit for the bar exam. They also cut part-time and night programs because those people were less likely to pass the bar. All of this so our bar passage rates would meet a certain metric. But by doing this, you're eliminating certain people from even having a chance. There probably is a certain LSAT score below which a person probably doesn't have what it takes to eventually pass the bar. But to simply increase your required score for the LSAT, just so the average is higher for the US News rankings, well, that is dumb. There might be people with families, people working to support their parents, people who speak English as a second language, etc, etc, who all do not have time to study for the LSAT or get perfect grades in school, but might make perfectly wonderful attorneys, if given a chance. If somebody looks like they might not succeed based on a historical failure rate of 75%, that means 25% still succeeded. Are those 25% not to be given a chance, ever? The point is, UMKC law is not Harvard Law and never will be. So why care at all about the rankings?

To finally circle back to my point: UMKC should be the place where people are given a chance, and it used to be. You were given the resources and instruction and you did with it what you would. It bothers me that we are even remotely straying away from that. I believe there should be schools that give people a chance in sports, just like UMKC used to in law (maybe Cincy, as Doug alluded to). ND might not be that school, just as Harvard Law probably isn’t the place to have a mom of 3 take night classes. But if we start using and overvaluing a set metric like CGR at all schools, the schools and coaches who used to give kids a chance will slowly and systematically start to look at who is most likely to help (or hurt) their CGR, just like UMKC looked at who was most likely to flunk the Bar, and coaches will simply stop giving certain kids a chance at all. It’s a lot easier to recruit a kid from the burbs with great parents and a great school system, and let him succeed academically in college. But isn’t it more admirable and beneficial to change the trajectory of somebody’s life, even if you fail 50% or even 75% of the time?

(Again, this whole argument is based on an assumption that the school would actually emphasize and support academics, as opposed to simply being a minor league team for NFL or NBA players. Those kids should be given a chance too, but the NFL and NBA should handle it, not the NCAA.)