Study halls, tutors and sheer effort have produced a first for the Georgia Tech football team.
The Yellow Jackets were cited Wednesday by the NCAA for their academic progress rate score ranking in the top 10 percent of FBS teams. It’s the first time they’ve earned that honor in the eight years that the NCAA has given out its Public Recognition Awards for high APR scores.
“I think that when you tell the parents that you’re going to help make sure they’re going to get their degree, that you try to do it,” coach Paul Johnson said. “We put some things in place to try to help with that, class checks and unlimited tutoring and help, but the bottom line is the guys are the ones that are doing it, so they deserve the credit.”
Tech was one of 13 FBS teams to receive the honor. The others were Alabama, Boise State, Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Missouri, Northwestern, Ohio State, Rice, Rutgers, Stanford and Wisconsin.
Tech’s golf team, which has had a perfect 1,000 score for the first seven years that the NCAA has measured APR, was honored for the eighth year in a row. The Georgia men’s basketball, men’s golf, gymnastics and women’s swimming teams also were cited, as were the women’s golf teams at Augusta State and Kennesaw State. The Bulldogs’ men’s golf, gymnastics and women’s swimming teams scored 1,000.
APR measures every Division I team’s academic achievement based on eligibility and retention. The scores are a four-year average. This year’s scores cover the 2008-09 through the 2011-12 academic years, the first that includes data only from Johnson’s tenure.
The full APR report, including scores, will be released June 4, but Tech’s top-13 status is a jump. Tech’s four-year score through the 2007-08 academic year, when Johnson was hired, was 957, tied for 25th in FBS. It improved to 967 (tied for 23rd), followed by 966 (28th) and 974 (tied for 16th) through the 2010-11 academic year.
Tech’s improvement reflects increases in academic support staff implemented during the tenure of former athletic director Dan Radakovich and the structure put in place by Johnson. All freshmen are required to attend study hall, often monitored by coaches. They also make checks to ensure players are attending class, with absences penalized with 6 a.m. runs.
The NCAA recognition could have a twofold impact on Tech’s recruiting. It can reinforce to prospects and their families that a support structure is in place for players to earn their degrees.
“If I was a parent (of a prospect), that would be one of the most important statistics to me,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t want somebody just using my son without having the benefit of reaping the rewards for playing.”
Second, the players’ academic success could influence the admissions process for prospects with marginal grades and test scores.
“I would think that it would,” Johnson said. “I would think that would give you some credibility.”
Johnson praised the work of Chris Breen, who directs the team’s academic support program, which provides tutoring and advising and monitors players’ individualized graduation plans.
“We want to continually raise the bar for our kids with the message that minimum effort and performance is not acceptable,” Breen said. “We want to continue to maximize the ability of our student-athletes.”
While APR measures retention and eligibility, the team also has succeeded in a more critical criterion. Of the 15 players from Johnson’s first signing class (of 20 total) who stayed at Tech four or more years, 14 have graduated. The 15th, T.J. Barnes, likely would have graduated in May had he not elected to leave school to train for the NFL draft.
Said Johnson, “I just think that’s part of what you owe them as student-athletes.”