||Discussion of questions from the Faculty Council concerning the Report of the Intercollegiate Athletics Councils for Men and for Women from November 12, 2007.
Chair Burger thanked Professors Mary Steinhardt (kinesiology and health education and chair of the women’s athletics council) and David Fowler (civil, architectural, and environmental engineering and chair of the men’s athletics council) for agreeing to address questions raised by Professor Tom Palaima (classics) following their Council presentations in November. Although Council members were invited to submit additional questions, none had been forthcoming. Chair Burger also acknowledged that Coach Mack Brown would be making a statement and answering Council members questions later in the meeting.
Professor Steinhardt said she wanted Council members to be aware that the women’s athletic council has a scholarship committee that regularly reviews the academic performance of each student athlete with her head coach. She said the committee members, Professors Gretchen Ritter (women’s and gender studies and government), Martha Hilley (music), and Robert Prentice (information, risk, and operations management) perceive this function to be the most important of their responsibilities. She also invited Council members to sign up for one of the small group luncheons for faculty and athletic department staff, which will be held on April 8, 15, and 22 from 11:30-1 pm in Belmont Hall, 326. Although seating is limited for each luncheon, additional meetings can be scheduled if a large number of faculty members want to attend.
Professor Fowler reported that a committee of the men’s athletics council also meets each year with the head coaches to review and discuss the academic issues of the student athletes. He introduced the following staff members from the athletics department, who had been asked to answer Professor Palaima’s questions: Ms. Lori Smith, director of compliance; Mr. Brian Davis, assistant athletic director for football and academic services; and Dr. Randa Ryan, associate director for athletics services. He announced that Coach Brown would provide information and answer questions following the staff members’ presentations.
Professor Palaima’s questions, which had been submitted in advance of the meeting to the athletics council chairs and athletics department staff, are listed below.
||The APR, AFCA and standard 6-year NCAA graduation rates all have different criteria. Please explain which criteria you think are best measures of the educational experience of scholarship student athletes in big-time sports (football, men's and women's basketball, and baseball). In specific, comment on the use of 4-year (NCAA grad rates), 5 1/2-year (AFCA) and 6-year windows (NCAA) and the focus on single years (rather than 3-year clusters) AND the change from 25-50-75 to 40-60-80 degree progress standards in terms of viability as a measure of academic achievement.
||Academic achievement takes time to attend class, read, study, think, do assignments and prepare for tests. Explain what weekly limits there are for sports according to the NCAA. If giving them "full-time jobs" as athletes causes problems with academic success, why not cut back on the hours of training and participation demanded?
||How many football players on average attend the voluntary unsupervised summer practices? Are such unsupervised practices held by other sports at UT? Do you think such practices affect in any way student-athlete academic progress?
||Please explain the nature of the many hours (according to John Maher's reports over 100 on average) that student athletes receive in tutoring? Of what does the tutoring consist?
Ms. Smith addressed question 1 by describing the various graduation rates and identifying them by their acronyms. She said there are two NCAA rates: the Academic Progress Rate (APR) and the Graduation Success Rate (GSA). The U.S. government collects data on a broad range of educational areas, including the graduation rates of student athletes, through its Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which has nothing to do with the NCAA. There is also a graduation rate published by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and utilized by the organization to recognize universities who have high graduation rates and positive outcomes for their athletes.
According to Ms. Smith, the NCAA’s APR is a real time measure on a term-by-term basis that indicates how student athletes are performing academically. This rate includes student athletes that are enrolled full time and on athletic aid; it differs from the other rates because it includes student athletes who have entered college on athletic aid as well as those who have received athletic aid at any time during their career as student athletes. She explained if a student athlete is in his or her last term of eligibility before the five-year limit expires, and he or she does not graduate within a five-year period, points are deducted that adversely impacts the team’s APR.
The APR’s graduation rate is based on a five-year period while the federal graduation rate and the NCAA’s GSR are based on a six-year period. According to Ms. Smith, this means the APR is a little more stringent than the other two rates due to its shorter timeframe. She described the APR as providing a “big picture from semester to semester” regarding how teams are performing academically and how well the team members are staying on track to graduate within a five-year period.
Ms. Smith said the NCAA also developed the GSR and proposed that the Department of Education adopt some aspects of this measure because it was thought to more accurately reflect the mobility of all students currently enrolled in higher education and not just that of student athletes. She explained that transfer students are included in the GSR but are not included in the federal IPEDS rate. Regarding the federal rate, she said a student athlete was only included if he or she was in the entering cohort at that institution. Furthermore, if a student left the institution, he or she would not ever be counted as graduating even if he or she later graduated from another institution. The new GSR will include such an individual if he or she came into a program on athletic aid, and it will omit from the rate calculation any student athlete who withdraws from an institution as long as that individual would have been considered academically eligible if he or she returned to the school. The GSR also has some of the other exceptions that the federal rate has, such as excluding deceased individuals from the rate calculation. Ms. Smith said both the GSR and the federal rate are based on four-year averages and student athletes must graduate within a six-year time period.
The AFCA’s graduation rate, according the Ms. Smith, is relatively similar to the NCAA’s GSA. The primary difference is that the AFCA rate is based on all student athletes and includes those who initially entered an institution as a non-scholarship student but later received athletic aid. The GSA would only include student athletes who initially entered a program on athletic financial support.
To answer question 4 about tutoring services available for student athletes, Dr. Randa Ryan said she wanted to first talk about the general academic structure provided athletes. She said there was often confusion about tutoring, mentoring, and academic counseling services and what they entail. In addition, there are NCAA requirements regarding the availability of a strong student support system, which The University of Texas wants to excel in providing its student athletes. Although some of the athletes recruited to the University are outstanding students, according to Dr. Ryan, there are others who face challenges as they transition from a small high school into a large institutional environment. The model the athletics department follows is “hands-on” with considerable individual attention since research has indicated that academic success positively influences self-confidence. Each of the student athletes is provided a support structure that includes an academic counselor from the athletics department who works in partnership with the academic counselors in the student’s declared major. The counselor from the athletics department helps the student understand the NCAA rules and how to maintain academic eligibility so he or she won’t risk losing financial support. The student athlete that has a declared major is required to meet each semester with an academic advisor in his or her college/school/department before registering for classes to assure that the student is enrolling in the classes that are needed to keep on track to graduate.
Dr. Ryan said the athletic department has 60 academic mentors, who are generally quality graduate students that have not already been hired as teaching or research assistants by their own departments. Many are graduate student mentors are from education, especially educational psychology, because they provide a good fit in meeting the needs of the student athletes. The mentors are available during the structured study hall periods that student athletes are expected to attend 8-10 hours per week and provide assistance with planning and managing study and practice times as well as effective learning strategies and skills. In addition, the mentors help the student athletes learn how to use Blackboard and eGradebook as well as how to communicate with their professors and to assume increased responsibility for their academic and personal success.
The third area of service to assist student athletes involves tutors. Although graduate students are the usual hires, Dr. Ryan said highly skilled undergraduates also serve as tutors. For example, if the academic counselor and/or mentor identify that the student’s limited math background may be problematic in an upcoming required course, the support staff will help the student determine how to fit tutoring sessions into his or her busy schedule. According to Dr. Ryan, the tutors for the student athletes follow specific University criteria in assisting students. She said she also works with Professor Linda Ferreira-Buckley (chair, writing and rhetoric) and the individual who trains tutors for the Undergraduate Writing Center to assure that the athletes have well-trained tutors to help improve their writing skills. Student athletes can have 10, 12, 15, or 20 hours in a structured learning environment depending on their individual needs. Some students need to just check in with the counselors and occasionally secure a tutor; others continue to interact with their mentors the entire time they are UT student athletes.
Mr. Davis said he would address the questions 2 and 3, but he was uncertain that he could fully address a part of the second question because he felt it was philosophical in nature. He said the NCAA has specific rules regarding how many hours each week a student athlete can participate in his or her sport and what activities are included in countable hours. According to Mr. Davis, a student athlete generally is limited to 20 hours of practice and competition each week during the sport’s season and records of these activities are maintained by the compliance office. During off-season, the athletes are limited to eight hours each week. For example, Mr. Davis said the football team was currently in their off-season workout period, which is limited to eight hours per week and tracked by the compliance office so penalties are not incurred. On days when the athletes travel during a sport’s season, the daily work hours allowed are even more limited.
Mr. Davis said personnel on the athletics staff believe there is no need to reduce the hours required for sports training and participation as suggested in Professor Palaima’s question. With the amount of structured learning time and services available for the student athletes, as outlined by Dr. Ryan, “there seems to be plenty of time to be successful as a student.” During his 26 years working with student athletes, he had concluded that other behavioral and self-confidence issues than time spent in the sport contributed to unsuccessful academic outcomes. He noted there have been times in the 20 years he has worked with Coach Brown when an athlete’s practice and participation time has been reduced in an effort to promote improved academic performance, but he added that restrictions of this type have been relatively rare and not publicized.
With regard to Professor Palaima’s third question regarding the number of football players who typically attend voluntary, unsupervised summer practices, Mr. Davis responded, “Well we really can’t tell you that because we’re not allowed to keep track of it.” He added that the regulations allow student football athletes to participate in such activity during an eight-week period during the summer for up to eight hours per week of workout sessions. He said the activity is supervised by strength, conditioning, and sports medicine staff members for safety reasons, but the coaches are not allowed to even watch the sessions; furthermore, footballs, blocking dummies and other equipment specific to football cannot be at the site. The purpose of this time is to improve physical conditioning, strength, and speed. Although no official records can be maintained regarding who attends the sessions and how frequently they come, Mr. Davis said he attends because it allows him to note who is not attending and to follow up to see if these individuals are missing classes or having difficulties with other issues. He also said he checks to see if athletes are working out at the same time they have regularly-scheduled classes they are supposed to be attending. Mr. Davis said he pays attention to these matters in his academic support role, but he does not maintain formal records and does not report any of his observations to the coaches because of the voluntary nature of the program and to comply with the regulations.
Mr. Davis said that sports other than football have different rules regarding what is allowed during the summer. He said many sports allow athletes to participate in their coaches’ summer camps, and some sports allow designated times when small groups of athletes can work out with their coaches in practice sessions. Mr. Davis said football regulations disallow both of these activities and concluded his presentation saying football generally operates on a “different set of rules than everybody else.”
Professor Fowler introduced Coach Brown and thanked him for taking the time to speak to the Faculty Council. Coach Brown’s presentation is attached in Appendix A. After expressing his appreciation to Coach Brown for coming to the meeting and encouraging him to have increased interaction with faculty, Professor Jon Olson (petroleum engineering) asked Coach Brown what he thought was contributing to the relatively low graduation rates of UT Austin’s student athletes in comparison to those at other schools, particular within the Big Twelve. Coach Brown said when he arrived here ten years ago that it took him about three to four years to determine the attributes of student athletes who could succeed at UT Austin, where the class sizes were so much larger than they had been at the University of North Carolina. When Mr. Dodds asked him why half of the student athletes were not graduating, Coach Brown said he was embarrassed and took time to review what had happened to every student he had been responsible for bringing to UT Austin. He said he had found several players had returned to complete their degrees, but they had not graduated within the four to five years used in measuring the graduation rate. As an example, he said, “Vince Young will not be on a graduation list because he’s making $50 million, but what a great endorsement to the other kids that he would come back and go to school.” Coach Brown said, “So, what I really have begun to feel is as long as they finish school, if its six years or seven years or eight years, then I’m okay with it.” He said it was unrealistic to expect the 17 Texas players he had recruited, who were now earning millions as NFL players, to finish their degrees during their professional football careers; however, he said he perceived their situations as positive outcomes. He said he wore the T-ring, which was initiated by former Coach Darrell Royal to honor those athletes who graduate in a timely manner, instead of his National Championship ring because he wanted the athletes to realize how much he wanted them to graduate. He said Earl Campbell told him he had returned to the University to finish his degree after 13 years with the Houston Oilers in part because he wanted a T-ring. Coach Brown said he also believed if a student athlete is not going to succeed academically or might not be able to positively handle the pressure at UT Austin, he preferred that the student transfer to another institution where the probability of his success would be higher than at Texas. He said this would be a preferable outcome because it would help the young person even though it would be detrimental to UT Austin’s graduation rate.
Professor Palaima also expressed his appreciation to the athletics personnel for their presentations and said he had been at a conference at Columbia University run by the Heckinger Institute in November, where all his fellow panel members complimented UT Austin for having the country’s most transparent athletic program. He also said he had never questioned the integrity of the athletics programs here at UT Austin, and he appreciated the willingness of the staff to provide information to him and to discuss criticisms he had raised in his opinion pieces. Because he recalled Mr. Dodds saying that on average only about four student athletes a year have a realistic chance of succeeding in professional sports, he said he hoped there would be less emphasis placed on successful outcomes in future reports from athletics personnel. Saying he was particularly concerned with the disparity in graduation rates between African American and white players (19% vs. 75%, respectively in 2006 according to the NCAA), he said he was encouraged to hear about all the supportive services that were being provided student athletes to help them succeed, However, he said he had some uneasiness about whether this was the proper role of higher education as well as the fairness to non-athletes from disadvantaged backgrounds who are facing similar transitional challenges at UT Austin. He said, “Education should not be about smothering people with 45 hours or 20 hours of tutoring and extra mentors and taking them through how to use Blackboard and so forth.” Even though he agreed that SAT and other standardized test scores might not be great predictors of academic success, Professor Palaima pointed out that these were the predictors used for admission to UT Austin. He said he was concerned that the SAT scores of male athletes participating in major sports at UT Austin averaged 200-300 points below the average entering SAT scores of UT Austin admittees, even though the athletes’ scores fell within the national average range. He said he was not actually asking a question but trying to indicate why some faculty were questioning whether student athletes might be better served at other institutions rather than coming unprepared to UT Austin and “having a whole battery of help thrown at them that’s not available to other students.”
Coach Brown responded that he did not agree that a low-test score indicates that a student didn’t deserve to be admitted to the University because the believed that the tests were prejudiced toward African-Americans. He said he thought questions about fairness had caused Harvard and other Ivy League institutions to omit these test scores in their admission decisions and suggested that Professor Palaima work to come up with a less biased measure than standardized test scores to use in admission decisions. In addition, Coach Brown said the majority of college football players are African Americans, which he thinks contributes to lower SATs and graduation rate for football compared to other sports. He also said recruitment of good student athletes is very competitive and the process occurs more quickly now than before. He said there will be 23 juniors on campus the Sunday after signing day, and he will not have met them individually and will not have talked to their families without having seen official academic transcripts of grades from their high schools. Coach Brown said he might get 15 minutes to talk with each of the potential recruits, but he knew each of them would be receiving 10-15 scholarship opportunities from other football programs if UT Austin did make them offers before they left the campus. Coach Brown said he would like for Professor Palaima to study what might be done about this situation across the entire country because it is a problem but “we have to be competitive on the field.” Coach Brown said he disagreed about the importance of standardized test scores in predicting academic success; in his experience, he had observed that a high GPA in required core courses along with class rank had served as much better indicators of future success than standardized test scores, even though he thought some of these students still might not read as well as they should. Coach Brown also disagreed that student athletes were being “smothered” with tutoring because tutors were never provided unless the student requested one. Although tutors for basic classes are readily available, the athlete must request a tutor for non-basic classes with one day of lead-time. Coach Brown said one of the more difficult tasks is providing good tutors; when a tutor is unfamiliar with an instructor or a class, he or she can actually harm a student’s performance. In addition, study halls are held on Sunday through Thursday for two hours each night, and athletes can take computers on trips to help them with their studying. Coach Brown said he did not sleep nights when a student athlete gets into trouble. He pointed out that there are real success stories, such as Selvin Young, who is now playing for Denver, after spending six years at the University due to injuries, which allowed him to complete his degree. Coach Brown said he had recently watched a taped interview following a professional game, where Mr. Young said, “I came here not believing in myself, and I left believing in myself because of what Texas gave me back.” Coach Brown cautioned that, “We don’t want to get so elitist that we only bring in those who have had the best opportunity from the beginning—there’s a real fine line there.”
Professor Palaima said he was concerned about the finding from a national survey of 15,000 student athletes reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education that indicated the average amount of time spent on sports-related activities was 45 hours per week. He asked Coach Brown to give a ballpark estimate of the time UT Austin football players spend in sports-related activity, especially after including the voluntary summer workouts. Coach Brown said he really did not know who shows up at the voluntary summer workouts, but he compared participation in this sports-related activity to that of the Council members attending their meetings. He said he thought it was likely that the faculty members on the Council spent more time on University-related activities than some of the faculty who are not on the Council because the Council members wanted to do a good job participating in an advisory capacity to the president. Coach Brown said he knew Professor Palaima was spending more than 45 hours trying to understand this sports issue and that was good because it indicated that Professor Palaima really cared. However, he was concerned that Professor Palaima might be getting “pieces of information” rather than complete information, and many of the pieces were negative. Coach Brown said, “There’s no question that if kids are spending 45 hours and not doing well in school, that’s too much. On the other hand, I go eat lunch sometimes and see students on Thursday afternoon down drunk at the Posse at 2:00, when I wish they had something else to do that afternoon.” When Professor Palaima responded, “That’s probably why the UT graduation rate is 60% or 70%,” Coach Brown said he thought faculty members wanted their students to do well even thought he knew faculty didn’t get to choose who took their classes. He said a difference was that the coaches and athletics staff “have the burden of being extended parents every day along with that” and therefore spend more time with the students than most. He said he thought the student athletes want to graduate and excel. However, a Rhodes scholar will spend more time than a student who is just trying to keep his grades high enough to remain in school because they have each made a choice. He said Joe Jamail has said to him, “You’re a fool—you’ve got 16-17 year olds carrying your check around in front of millions of people on Saturday afternoon, and if they fumble and drop it you don’t get to eat. You should be doing something else.” Coach Brown said his response was, “It’s what I chose to do and I think that’s a great thing about our country—we get choices.” He said he thought if student athletes want to spend their time working out in the summer that was their choice. If they don’t, then that’s their choice as well; however, they may not been in good shape during the early practices when it is dangerously hot and they may not play as well as those who took the time to workout. Coach Brown said he met with a faculty committee that was studying athletics right after he arrived in North Carolina in 1988. He said some of the committee members could not understand why there were 85 members of the team when only 11 could play at a time and said the students were stupid to just sit on the bench. He said he realized that students join the team to be part of a group outside of academics. Some use the opportunity to excel, such as Dallas Griffin, the number one student athlete in the country, who turned down a chance to play in the NFL because he wanted to immediately go into the business world. Coach Brown said he was disappointed that the award Mr. Griffin had received was not worthy of front-page news like it would have been when an athlete is caught stealing.
Both Professor Palaima and Coach Brown thanked one another. Chair Burger also thanked Coach Brown and the other athletic staff members for the time they had spent with the Faculty Council. Chair Burger said academic departments were in the talent business just like the athletics department although the talent pool is different. He said the departments are competing with Berkeley, Harvard, and MIT for graduate students and colleagues, and the national brand of our UT Austin is critical for success in recruiting. He said he thought that when bad news is broadcast across the country regarding athletics at UT Austin, it could hurt our brand nationally. He said he thought some faculty members were concerned because they don’t know what is occurring in athletics and it is beyond our direct control but what occurs there can affect the perception of our University and hurt our recruitment prospects. Chair Burger said that increased communication, such as Coach Brown coming to the Council meeting, the luncheons being held for faculty members, and the committee work seeking to align shared interests between athletics and academics, is helpful in relieving faculty concerns. Coach Brown responded saying that the feeling was mutual because he and his staff take information about the departmental ratings into the meetings they have with potential recruits and their families. He said it is important for our academic programs to compare favorably with other universities, such as Berkeley, Virginia, UCLA, and Stanford.
Coach Brown said one of his major fears is that the pressures to have a winning team are so great that some of the 20 million people in our state might not fully agree with his strongly-held conviction that no rules will be broken to help our football team to win. His second major fear involves young people getting into trouble and ruining their lives. He said this past summer he actually became ill over what had happened and the news coverage it received. He said he thought it was very unfair that all eight of the student athletes who had been charged over a three-year period had their pictures spread all over the news even though the charges had been dropped against four of them. This sort of news often involves African-Americans because they are a large majority of the players, and he felt this was unfair as well. Coach Brown said his third major fear involves graduation rates because he really does want the student athletes to finish their degrees even though he is not that concerned about how long it takes. The problem is the potential $285,000 the student athletes hear about compared to normal salaries they can earn in other occupations. Because of this, Coach Brown said student athletes have increased pressures imposed upon them by family members. Coach Brown said it’s not just poor families that want their sons to play in the pros; affluent family members also want to see their sons on television playing pro football on Sunday afternoons. He said the pressures are so great that unfortunately many student athletes have to go try to make it in professional sports and then fail before they decide to return to finish their degrees. Another problem Coach Brown says he has to continually fight is the common perception among Texas players that they have some sort of entitlement to play in the NFL. He said this is an issue because of the very low probability of success that was mentioned by Professor Palaima. And, Coach Brown added that even if they make it into the pros, the average number of years that they will get to play is about 4.5 and almost 60% of those will be divorced and bankrupt after they finish playing professionally. He closed by saying he didn’t intend to get off on the sad cases he had seen where athletes who have received a large amount of money for their skills in sports end up having trouble surviving in the real world later on.
Chair Burger commented that the faculty would “do our best to bring up our academic rankings to help your recruiting.” Coach Brown replied, “Ya’ll need to pick it up.” He added he had heard that former UT Austin basketball coach Abe Lemons once was asked what he thought about the business school being ranked 4th when the basketball team was only 12th. Lemons replied, “Well, our schedule is much tougher.”
As presented at the November 2007 Council meeting, the APR awards two points each semester to student athletes who meet academic eligibility standards and who remain with the institution. A team’s APR is the total points earned by the team at a given date divided by the total points possible.