An oft-cited number regarding the Georgia Bulldogs: Seven losses (against six wins) in 2010. Another: Eleven players arrested in that same calendar year.
But here’s another number, a happier number: The Georgia football team had an Academic Progress Rate for the school year 2009-2010 of 976, which tied Florida for second-best in the SEC behind Vanderbilt, which is so committed to academics it no longer has an athletic department.
The Georgia football program, criticized in this and other spaces for not having its priorities in order, is clearly doing something right. This latest APR snapshot wasn’t a one-off, either: In 2007-2008, Georgia football ranked first in the SEC — yes, ahead of Vandy.
I know how it is. We sophisticates on the periphery wink when a college player is called a “student-athlete,” but what we sophisticates forget is this: Even if a college player’s only career ambition is to become a professional athlete, he still has to attend classes and pass enough of them to remain eligible.
I know, I know. You’re winking again. But hear me out.
Going to class isn’t always fun, and the temptation to skip a week’s worth is mighty. (Trust me on this.) If you’re an ordinary student, you might get away with that. If you’re a student-athlete, you can’t. You’ll have academic advisers and assistant coaches and even the head ball coach on you, and they won’t be whispering, “Please make a better effort to get out of bed.” They’ll have you up at 5 a.m. running the stadium steps.
A few of us sophisticated media types were waiting around after a Georgia Tech practice a couple of years ago, and all of a sudden the reigning ACC offensive player of the year came tearing past in full gear. Where was Jonathan Dwyer going in such a rush? He had an evening lab. It was a fleeting thing — Dwyer was running fast — but it resonated.
Some people complain that players who leave early for the pros show no loyalty to their school. Here’s the thing, though: Once you’re a pro, you don’t have to worry about evening labs, or about getting docked four games if you sell your jersey. You’re no longer a student-athlete; you’re a pro with a paying job. You’re free of the NCAA and its arcane restrictions. You’re free to go make big money, same as your head coach.
A college athlete is a big man on campus, but he’s still on campus. He gets a scholarship, yes, but he doesn’t get rich. (Here we pause for your Cecil Newton jokes.) Having been an ordinary college student, albeit in another century, I can attest that student-athletes work 10 times harder than I ever did. They have little time to themselves. (Insert Georgia arrest joke here.)
Go ahead. Make all the jokes you want. But somewhere amid the hilarity, spare a serious thought for the Georgia football program. Those players have been held up to the highest level of scrutiny — again, I’m guilty as charged — but academically they’re doing just fine. They’re ahead of the SEC curve. They’re ahead of Georgia Tech, which had an APR of 966. They have the second-highest APR among the nine Georgia men’s sports programs. (Only golf ranks ahead of football.)
We mention the APR today because, to be frank, it’s a number people forget when the games commence. In college athletics, the tail too often wags the proverbial dog. UConn just won the men’s basketball title, but it did so with a coach who will be suspended three games next season for NCAA violations and with a program that had an APR so low (826) that it cost the Huskies two scholarships. Does such a championship really qualify as “One Shining Moment”?
Consider this our chance to watch a proud dog wag its tail. Georgia football might have disappointed us in other ways, but it has held up its end on a fundamental level. Its guys are making their grades. That’s no joke.
By Mark Bradley