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Athletic GPAs on the rise

Athletic GPAs on the rise

Athletic GPAs on the rise

Coaches’ emphasis on academics too leads to better students

Dan McDonald

One year ago, the combined grade point average of the University of Louisiana basketball team was a 2.3. Last fall, it was a 2.5.
The Ragin’ Cajun football team had 39 players make the university’s honor roll with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. The team’s combined freshman GPA was over a 2.9 last fall. UL football’s team average was 2.57 last spring and 2.53 last fall, the two highest marks in a decade, and five players earned degrees in December.

Every one of UL’s 14 varsity sports had a team GPA of 2.5 or higher in the fall, a first since the school began keeping academic records on its student-athletes.

What’s happening here?
Did someone move the UL campus to Lake Woebegon, where according to National Public Radio all the children are above average? Nope.

Did the university instructors suddenly become better teachers, or suddenly decide to award more lenient grades on athletes? Doubtful.

Did the kids suddenly get smarter? In a way, maybe.

Are the university and the athletic department looking at those numbers a lot more closely? You bet, especially since the NCAA will begin penalizing programs that don’t graduate their athletes within the next year.

"We’ve completely changed the way we evaluate kids," said UL football coach Rickey Bustle. "It’s now an academic evaluation along with an athletic evaluation. I don’t care how good a player is, I won’t offer anybody anything until I see a transcript."

"We’re trying to look more at the makeup of the kid," said men’s basketball coach Robert Lee. "We have to identify a player’s desire to be successful on and off the court."

Those two squads were languishing with poor graduation records and below-average averages in the not-too-distant past. They’ve now joined the athletic program’s other teams and are bragging about their GPA’s.

Boosting the graduation level will take more time, and because of those lurking NCAA penalties the university has added to existing programs and pumped more resources aimed at keeping those GPA’s high and boosting the graduation rates.

"It’s something that’s obviously becoming an even bigger focus by the NCAA," said interim athletic director David Walker. "It’s something we’re committed to and something we have to keep improving.

"Dr. Authement (UL President Ray Authement) has committed to additional funds for summer school, and we’re right now searching for funds to help all our fifth-year seniors finish their degrees."

Degree completion became more important when the NCAA debuted the Academic Progress Report (APR) just over a year ago. The APR is an assessment of a team’s academic performance that rewards teams for retaining and graduating its athletes and penalizes teams whose athletes become academically ineligible and/or leave the program.

According to an August APR report, seven UL sports – football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, men’s indoor and outdoor track and women’s soccer – were below the APR score of 925, which would translate into an expected graduation rate of approximately 50 percent. Baseball, women’s basketball, soccer and outdoor track were close enough to the cut line to likely avoid penalties, but men’s basketball, football and indoor track were facing potential penalties including loss of scholarship aid when the updated APR is announced later this month.

The APR has been widely criticized because of alleged inequities in the U.S. Department of Education reporting standards used for the past 15 years. For example, if a player left a program before completing degree requirements, the program was penalized even if the player was academically eligible to return. And, if a transfer joined a program and earned his degree, that program did not get a bonus despite that graduation.

Because of that, the NCAA announced a new counting method in January, the Graduation Success Rate (GSR), that boosted most teams’ graduation rates. The GSR counts all athletes who earn a degree within six years of enrollment, or while in good academic standing transfer to another school or turn professional.

"That makes it a little more fair," Bustle said. "But the APR is serious business. We’ve upgraded what we’ve done over the last four years."

Many more UL teams have mandatory study halls, weekly academic meetings and coaches who follow their players’ classroom performance with a fine-toothed comb.

"Every coach has a folder on their kids," Bustle said. "They know when tests are coming and papers are due, and we’re on them to make sure they’re keeping up and if guys on the bubble need some more help."

"I’ve always felt we have a responsibility to these kids’ parents to make sure they’re doing well in school," Lee said. "We try to do what you’d want for your own kid. But it still comes down to us demanding more, because what we demand of them will determine their performance in the classroom."


For the first time since the university began keeping records on its teams, all University of Louisiana athletic teams finished the 2005 fall semester with a cumulative grade point average of 2.50 or better.

Overall, 172 of the university’s 346 student athletes and student support staff (49.7 percent) finished the fall with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, with 22 earning a 4.0. A total of 40 earned degrees at December graduation ceremonies.

Team GPA’s by sport:


Cross Country 3.15

Golf 3.11

Baseball 3.10

Track & Field 2.73

Tennis 2.62

Football 2.53

Basketball 2.50


Tennis 3.43

Soccer 3.32

Volleyball 3.15

Cross Country 3.12

Softball 3.07

Track & Field 2.89

Basketball 2.53

Originally published February 12, 2006