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Big Ten expansion: Another way to look at the academics

I realize lots of college sports fans don’t give a damn how many cement-heads play on their favorite team, but places like the Star Tribune editorial page and MinnPost get paid to chin-stroke about academics.

A few days ago, the Strib ran a solid editorial urging that Big Ten expansion — currently in its frenzied phase — “take a high road” on academic quality. But I had to wince at the supporting data: U.S. News’ college rankings, which are that magazine’s sales-driven equivalent of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

After whining about this on Twitter, someone who knows more about college jocks than I suggested I look at NCAA data; specifically the “Academic Progress Rate” for the various sports programs. APR looks at athlete’s eligibility, retention and ultimately, graduation.

Yes, it’s NCAA data, which should make us all a bit suspicious; critics note schools can still game their system to pass jocks through like illiterate kids who receive their high school diplomas. Also, the numbers only look at the jockocracy, not an entire instutution’s academics as the U.S. News rankings purport to.

Nevertheless, the APR stats were helpfully updated with 2008-09 results this week. Stat note: 1000 equals a 100 percent graduation rate; 925 translates to 50 percent.

If you just look at the four-year APR for football, every serious Big Ten expansion candidate did better than our fair Gophers, except Texas A&M, which is tied. (A&M is not the Big Ten’s first choice, but might come in with Texas, who is coveted.) Rutgers, by the way, racked up the highest four-year football APR ever this year.

This particular metric is the worst one for the football Gophs, who lost three scholarships due to APR in 2009. In this year’s four-year rankings, placed 10th out of 11 in the Big Ten (beating only Purdue).

However, if you just look at the most recent year, 2008-09, Minnesota’s number jumped to 968, ranking in the middle of the expansion pack — better than Texas, which is considered a very good academic school overall.

As for other sports, the data is all over the map, but you can search the NCAA’s APR database here. A quick look shows the worst-performing squad among the possible newcomers is Syracuse men’s basketball, with a 912; other lunkheads include A&M men’s tennis (922) and Nebraska men’s basketball (925).

Conversely, Notre Dame, Missouri and Texas all have the highest minimums: no Irish squad finished below 978, for example.

Here are links to the full reports for the various schools:

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by John Olson on 06/11/2010 - 08:09 am.

    I’m not going to dispute the desire that the Big Ten should consider academics, but the reality is that this is all about M-O-N-E-Y. Lots of it. I read somewhere that if Nebraska joined the Big Ten, their television revenues would go from $10m to $20m due in large part to the Big Ten Network.

    And let’s face it: adding Nebraska to the Big Ten means a caravan of red coming up I35.

    As an aside, one factor that has to influence some graduation rates (not necessarily at the U of M) are the young men who leave early and turn pro. The U of M men’s hockey program has seen its share of departures to the NHL in recent years.

  2. Submitted by David Brauer on 06/11/2010 - 09:01 am.

    John – I believe APR excludes athletes who leave early for pro careers.

  3. Submitted by Steve Rudolph on 06/11/2010 - 10:44 am.

    Schools aren’t penalized for athletes who leave early for the pros if they are in good standing. However, many drop out of school mid-term to prepare for the draft and I believe that hurts their school.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/13/2010 - 11:57 am.

    Money makers? For who? Where does that money go? Near as I can tell it just goes right back into the sport programs, and it’s still not enough because they need state aid for new stadiums, and tuition money to boot. The U finally admitted a few years ago that it’s sports programs are not self sustaining.

    And only in sports do have these bizarre statistical metrics- 1000 is 100% and 925 is 50%? Yeah, they can game stats in their sleep if they wan with crap like that.

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