June 20, 2012
Ohio State continues to try and prove that they are more than just a "football factory", and the latest APR (academic progress reports), released today, coupled with yesterday's release about spring academics, would indicate that they are succeeding in that endeavor.
"Each of Ohio State's 36 teams continued to improve its Academic Performance Rates (i.e. APR score) over the most recent four-year average (2010-11). This indicates our student-athletes are successfully completing the academic benchmarks associated with eligibility to compete," Prof John P. Bruno, OSU faculty athletics representative, said. "Moreover, five of our teams have distinguished themselves as being recently recognized by the NCAA as having APR scores in the Top 10 percent of their sports on a national level. The sports are football (within the FBS cohort), men's and women's tennis, and men's and women's volleyball. This strong performance speaks to the commitment of our student-athletes to their academic progress and to the support they receive from coaches and our terrific academic support staff."
The APR, which is designed to help sports programs keep a focus on the "student" aspect of "student-athlete" by penalizing the program on the field for issues off it; has seen Buckeye football improve for the 6th straight year — or every year since the program was introduced. When the program was first started in 2004-2005 school years, the Buckeyes found themselves sitting on a score of 925, the minimum number before penalties begin to be assessed. Ohio State has improved by an average of 12 points per year and peaked at 985 a year ago, which was the second highest score in the Big Ten Conference, trailing only Northwestern's 993.
That was the peak, until today's latest numbers showed the Buckeyes once again moving up the list. Now with a football team APR of 988, (again, second in the conference behind Northwestern's 995) the academic chest-thumping can continue for an athletic department that has been regularly ridiculed and lamented as disinterested in the success of its athletes in the class room.
Thad Matta's basketball team; which has been among the lowest-scoring programs (due to early entrants into the NBA as well as transfers to other programs) in the athletic department has seen steady improvement as well. In the 2008-2009 scoring period, Ohio State scored a 929, but they saw that number jump to 952 in 2009-2010 and again to 962 in the new results.
Inside of the Big Ten (not including Nebraska), the Buckeyes stack up very favorably as well. Only the aforementioned Wildcats have a better combined football APR for the previous three years with an average score of 984 to Ohio State's 976. Michigan's score in that same stretch averages 937, which places them tied with Michigan State for third worst in the conference, ahead of only Purdue and Minnesota (931 and 928, respectively).
The football team's APR, as mentioned, grew every year under the tutelage of Jim Tressel, and that shouldn't come as a surprise. His commitment to academic excellence from his players is one area of his legacy at Ohio State that has (at least to this point) gone un-impugned. For Buckeye fans that take pride in the grade-room greatness of their gridiron gladiators, the transition to Urban Meyer should provide similar satisfaction.
Meyer had a chance to talk about the emphasis that he and his staff put on academics, and how pleased they are with the efforts of the team up to this point.
"Our players and staff really attacked the spring quarter academically, especially the second half of it, like we would the second half of a game," the Buckeyes first year head coach said. "I was impressed with everyone's effort to finish strong. Overall, the team performed very well in the classroom."
It's not unsual that a Meyer-led team succeeds in the classroom. His teams hold an average APR score of 966, which is significantly better than the NCAA average of 936 between 2003 and 2010. Overall, Coach Meyer has had 187 players placed on "All-Academic" teams in the MAC, Mountain West and SEC in his career prior to his arrival at Ohio State. In 2008, Meyer's Florida team had an SEC record 37 players named to the conference's Academic Honor Roll.
It speaks volumes about not just the Ohio State administraton that this has become a bigger issue, but it also says much about the job that Luke Fickell and his coaches did a year ago to keep players focused on football and academics instead of all the off-field distractions that surrounded the program. You may have heard about some of them.
Over all, more than half of the school's student athletes have a cumulative GPA over 3.0, a record number for a school with the country's largest athletic department. In early June, Ohio State seniors Andrew Elliot (swimming), Sean Duddy (hockey) and Ulrike Denker were all named to the 2012 Capital One All-American At-Large teams. Denker, an Essen, Germany native, became the first rower from Ohio State to be named an academic All-American.
As Ohio State continues to try and change it's perception as a band of rule-breaking, football playing miscreants, it's impossible for anyone without a hefty axe to grind to see them with the same tired and retread stereotype. Yes, Ohio State is still, and for the foreseeable future, going to be defined more by the successes and failures of its student-athletes on the field of play than in the classroom. Yes, Ohio State is still a "football school", but it's becoming more and more evident that it's a school first.