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: