Citizen Staff Writer
This is the second of a two-day series examining the UA athletic department’s academic woes.
The University of Arizona football program has changed its recruiting ways to suit its style on the field – and in the classroom.
UA, which is adapting a spread offense this season, is making sure its recruits can cut it academically after losing seven scholarships over the past two years because of low NCAA Academic Progress Rate issues.
“(UA) President (Robert) Shelton is very concerned and wants to know why we haven’t been successful, but we are definitely headed in the right direction,” UA coach Mike Stoops said. “The APR came at the worst possible time for us as a program. We took some chances on kids, and that’s my responsibility. We took some kids that could not survive here. We recruit differently now than three years ago, that’s for sure.”
Unspecified schools are using the rates against the Wildcats in football recruiting, said Bill Baker, UA’s assistant director of operations for recruiting. Still, Arizona has 11 known commitments – the most it has ever had before a season starts.
ESPN made note last week of UA having the lowest Academic Progress Rate among Bowl Championship Series schools when it ranked the top college programs of the past 10 years. UA was ranked 71st overall. The ratings included win-loss record, traditions, recruiting, facilities, coaches, attendance and support in the criteria.
“It’s happening,” said Baker, about schools bashing the Wildcats. “If I was out there knocking heads with people, I might use it, too. But you have to look at the true information.
“Our business school is phenomenal, the engineering school is great. It’s an incredible academic environment.”
It’s difficult to hide UA’s 65 percent overall graduation rate for athletes enrolled from 1996-1999 – 12 percentage points behind the NCAA Division I-A average.
The rate is worse in football, where only 39 percent of its players graduated.
UA has made several academic changes, however, to aid academic success. It has doubled its tutoring staff to 70, hired a full-time learning specialist, added a monitoring system and instilled a code of discipline program that checks every aspect of an athlete who is struggling academically.
“Football has obviously had its challenges,” said Mike Meade, an assistant director of the Commitment to the UA’s Athlete’s Total Success (C.A.T.S.) program. “This year we anticipate to have significant improvement. . . . Our goal is to make the program healthy academically, and we are seeing that.”
The Wildcats are the only Pac-10 football school to lose scholarships because of the APR, which gauges academic eligibility, progress and graduation.
Arizona’s administrators have pinpointed coaching changes and player unrest during the 2003-04 season, the start of the data for the APR, as a major reason for not meeting the minimum score needed to avoid scholarship losses.
The Wildcats went through a transitional period with John Mackovic replacing longtime UA coach Dick Tomey after the 2000 campaign. Mackovic was fired midway through the 2003 season after a series of events involving player unrest.
Stoops eventually took over for Mike Hankwitz, who was promoted to head coach after Mackovic’s firing.
New NCAA rules have helped Stoops try to rectify problems, UA administrators and coaches agree, starting with freshmen being allowed to enroll in summer school. All but one freshman from the 2007 recruiting class took at least one summer school course, Baker said.
“That gives them a chance to work with us, and us with them,” said Roger Grooters, the director of C.A.T.S. “It gets them adjusted to the university over the summer and before their athletic season even starts.”
UA’s academic support workers are also monitoring prospective recruits’ transcripts and meeting with coaches on a regular basis.
Recent NCAA guidelines require athletes to send a transcript to the Clearinghouse (which determines eligibility) before an official visit to a campus can be made.
“This school has done a remarkable job of addressing the weaknesses that were here and they have been fixed ,” Baker said. “(UA put) many new devices in place to help the student-athletes we bring in to be successful.”
MORE, PAGE 2C
• UA newcomers report today.
• Past athletes who finish degrees give UA ‘bonus points.’
• Fall camp: Most practices open to public.