To a degree, Terps still lag

Men's basketball last in ACC in graduation rate

football 8th

September 28, 2006|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun Reporter

For the second straight year under the NCAA's new formula for calculating graduation rates, the Maryland men's basketball team is at the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference and the football team is in the league's lower echelon, according to statistics released yesterday by the NCAA.

The men's basketball team had a graduation success rate (GSR) of 18 percent for freshmen entering the university between 1996 and 1999. The football team is eighth in the ACC with a GSR of 64 percent. The numbers were in contrast with the athletic department's overall GSR of 76 percent for a second consecutive year.

The data are from a study of Division I scholarship athletes who entered school between 1996 and 1999. The federal graduation rates also were announced yesterday, but the GSR is widely viewed as the more accurate calculation -- and more popular among coaches -- because transfer students are considered in the equation. Under the GSR, schools are not penalized when athletes with eligibility leave, but they are rewarded when a student transfers into the program and graduates.

NCAA president Myles Brand said yesterday that the federal rate misses about 35 percent of student-athletes. The federal and GSR rates for Maryland student-athletes were 76 percent.

The number is on par with the national level, as the NCAA released figures showing 77 percent of college athletes graduate within the allotted six years, a slight increase over last year's 76 percent.

"The trend lines are up in all areas and with the few exceptions of some teams that still have some work to do, the academic reforms are taking hold," Brand said. "Even in sports that have traditionally lagged, such as basketball and football, we are seeing improvement."

At Maryland, three teams -- women's golf, women's gymnastics and women's soccer -- had 100 percent graduation success rates for the years studied, according to the NCAA report.

"There is no greater priority for our department than helping our student-athletes achieve their academic goals," Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow said in a statement. "We have a departmental priority to continue to improve in this area. Our unwavering goal is to have graduation rates for student-athletes at 70 percent or higher on a consistent basis."

Anton Goff, Maryland's athletic director for academic support and career development, pointed out that several of the men's basketball players who counted against the graduation rate "had an opportunity to leave and pursue their professional career."

According to Maryland media guides, there were 13 freshmen who joined the team from 1996 to 1999 -- not including transfers like Steve Francis and Byron Mouton. University officials would not release the names of athletes who did not graduate, but of those 15 players, eight left school early to pursue professional careers and two -- Danny Miller and Kelly Hite -- transferred.

"It's so hard to get these guys to come back once they're in that schedule of the NBA or overseas," Goff said. "For the past couple of years our men's basketball rate has been low. That's something we've identified we want to work on. One of the bad things is that this is from the '99 class. That was a long time ago. We're focusing on the individuals we have here now and giving them the best opportunity to graduate."

Still, the GSR for men's basketball decreased from 30 percent last year to 18. Asked yesterday if a low GSR should be a warning sign for a program, Brand said: "The answer is clearly yes.

"It does indicate which direction the program is going in," he said. "I do think those teams that have low GSRs or declining GSRs need to pay attention to these changes."

Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen did not take over the program until 2001, when many of the players included in this report would have been juniors.

"There's not much I can do about it," Friedgen said on being judged on another coach's recruits. "Whether I recruit a kid or not, I try my best to get them to graduate. We've been pretty successful at it. You do everything you possibly can to help them graduate. I don't have any problem looking in the mirror on that one."

Terps men's basketball coach Gary Williams was unavailable to comment.

The GSR is different from the academic progress rate, which is a current, semester-by-semester snapshot of academic eligibility, graduation and retention. Penalties such as loss of scholarships are tied to APR, not GSR.

The APR is expected to be announced in May.

Elsewhere, Navy and Loyola towered over the rest of the local colleges. Of the 19 sports programs reporting from Annapolis, 16 had perfect records, including a 100 percent rate for men's basketball. Ninety-eight percent of football players from those four classes graduated.

At Loyola, nine of the school's teams had GSR rates of 100 percent. Women's basketball, at 93 percent, was the only women's program without a perfect record, as was the case last year. In men's basketball, the Greyhounds had the second-best percentage locally, tying Towson at 88 percent. heather.dinich@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Christian Ewell contributed to this article.

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