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January 15, 2009 - Emphasis in academic values leads to academic success

At the 2009 NCAA Convention, Middle Tennessee State University President Sidney McPhee and University of Georgia Athletics Director Damon Evans were the focus of discussion on institutional reforms to improve the academic performance of their athletic programs.

According to the NCAA News, McPhee discussed his support of academic reform proposals and the implementation of Academic Progress Rates, only to see his institution rank last in Division I. McPhee said academic reform suddenly became an intensely local matter, something for which the entire campus became responsible. “I didn’t blame the football coach of the athletics director,” he said. “The buck stopped with me.” The institution developed an “academic game plan” across the institution that led to steady improvement in the academic performance of its football and the entire athletics program. APR scores rose each year from 2003-04 through 2007-08, with football climbing from a dismal 812 to a sparkling 988 in five years.  McPhee told the NCAA convention that the formula involved accountability, incentives and public reports that allowed the program and the institution to “go beyond the rhetoric.”

At the University of Georgia, Evans' sought to change the impression that the athletics program was about big business rather than student-athlete educational development. As a new athletics director, he implemented a policy regarding missed class time, which quickly led to the suspension of a number of student-athletes. After implementing the policy, the number of credit hours and grade-point averages soaring to record levels in the next semester. Evans told a University of Georgia supporter that the policy did not place his institution at a competitive disadvantage: “Simply put, if a student-athlete doesn’t want to come to the University of Georgia because we want him to go to class and keep academic appointments, then we don’t want him.”

Walt Harrison, chair of Division I’s Committee on Academic Performance, stated that evidence is now available that demonstrates that previously underperforming teams are benefiting from the academic-success programs that have been developed to avoid penalties – so much so that few teams are expected to face academically related sanctions.