Schools are spending big on academics
Centers, tutors are big ticket items
By John Maher
Cox News Service
Monday, October 29, 2007

AUSTIN, Texas - In 1991, not long after finally voting to make public the graduation rates of athletes, NCAA Division I universities required schools to make counseling and tutoring available to their student-athletes.

Since then, many colleges have undergone a building boom to give student-athletes greater access to computers, the Internet, study rooms, tutors and more.

Academic centers for athletes have become commonplace at most big state schools. Many are flashy enough to be used as recruiting tools.

Texas A&M's Center for Athletics Academic Services covers 28,000 square feet, cost $27 million and opened in 2003. Ohio State's Younkin Success Center, which houses athletic support services, is 72,000 square feet and opened in 2000 with a $10 million price tag.

The University of Texas has the Bible Academic Center in Bellmont Hall and the Academic Learning Center in the football team's Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletics Complex. UT also is adding an 18,000-square-foot academic center for student-athletes as part of the football stadium's north end zone renovation.

The NCAA does not publicly track how much schools spend on academic support services, but school administrators say the amount is increasing.

Phil Moses, director of academic support for student-athletes at North Carolina State and past president of the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics, estimates that large public universities average $1 million per year in academic help for athletes. That's about what N.C. State spends, he said.

David Graham, director of student-athlete support services at Ohio State, said that school's budget is $2 million. Ohio State fields more teams than almost any Division I school and has more than 800 athletes. By comparison, Texas has about 500 athletes, slightly above the average for a Big 12 school.

Big 12 schools spend from $500,0000 to $2 million on academic support for their athletes, based on figures provided by academic services directors or associate athletic directors around the conference. The schools with the largest athletic budgets typically spend the most on academic aid. Football powers Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas A&M and basketball heavyweight Kansas top the list in the Big 12.

"If you wanted help, you got it - period," recalled former Longhorns football player Dusty Renfro.

UT senior associate athletic director Randa Ryan said Longhorn athletes receive about 7,000 hours of tutoring a year - and that doesn't include the football team. Brian Davis, who oversees the football squad's academic performance, said the team totals 4,000 to 5,000 hours of tutoring per semester, including the summer semester when players are enrolled and doing voluntary workouts. That works out to 12,000 to 15,000 hours - about 100 hours per football player per year.

Those numbers dwarf the level of tutoring that non-athletes receive at UT.

Alan Constant, director of UT's Learning Center, where most of the university's undergraduate tutoring is done, said 3,910 students took advantage of tutorial services during the 2006-07 school year, totaling 52,496 hours of tutoring. That's about 11 percent of all undergraduate students, at an average of a little more than 13 hours each.

John Maher writes for the Austin American-Statesman.

Athletes caught between standards
Lower entrance levels, stricter NCAA criteria creating Catch-22.
By John Maher
Monday, October 29, 2007

Ask Big 12 academic administrators about the NCAA's current reform efforts, and they'll respond with carefully measured words and cautious praise. And then some of them will tell you what they really think.

"This is a perfect storm and a formula for disaster," said Gerald Gurney, senior associate athletic director for academics at the University of Oklahoma. "It has encouraged academic fraud and dishonesty."

Here's why Gurney and other administrators are concerned: Even as it has lowered admission standards for athletes, the NCAA has increased the academic requirements for those athletes once they are in college.

As Marilyn Middlebrook, Oklahoma State's associate athletic director for academic affairs, put it: The NCAA has "lowered the bar" to get student-athletes into schools "and raised it to let them out."

"It was always hard," Middlebrook said, "but now I've got advisers saying, 'Where's the Prozac?' They're joking, but if you find anyone who says they're not working harder, they're lying."

Some educators say the problems began a decade ago when the NCAA tried to toughen the old Proposition 48 standard for initial athletic eligibility with Proposition 16.

Proposition 16, fully implemented in 1996, introduced a sliding scale for standardized test scores and grade-point averages in 13 core classes, and it required an SAT score of at least 820 or an equivalent ACT score for an incoming student-athlete to have full eligibility. Partial qualifiers - eligible for an athletic scholarship but not allowed to compete as freshmen - could score as low as a 720 on the SAT.

That rule, however, was quickly challenged in the courts as plaintiffs claimed standardized tests were discriminatory.

The NCAA eventually came up with Bylaw as a replacement. It allows schools to admit a student-athlete who scores the lowest possible SAT score of 400 if he or she has a high school grade-point average of 3.55 or above in 14 core classes. With a 3.0 high school GPA, only a score of 620 on the SAT is needed for an athlete to gain full eligibility and a scholarship. By comparison, the average SAT for all University of Texas freshmen has been about 1,230 in recent years.

Even as it has made it easier for athletes to qualify for college, the NCAA has increased the rate at which they are supposed to make progress toward their degrees.

To remain eligible for competition, athletes must have completed 40 percent of their degree requirements by the start of their third year, 60 percent by the fourth year and 80 percent by the fifth year. The previous standards were 25, 50 and 75 percent.

The NCAA also has instituted a new measure of success, the academic progress rate, and begun to penalize schools whose student-athletes showed unsatisfactory academic performance. Teams that don't meet APR cutoff marks can lose scholarships, which could hurt their chances on the field.

Walter Harrison, chairman of the NCAA's committee on academic performance and president of the University of Hartford, said the NCAA did not send a mixed message with the changes.

He said that academic admission requirements have not been lowered with the sliding scale and that standardized tests such as the SAT could be discriminatory.

Some Big 12 administrators, however, aren't so sure that the current standards are a step in the right direction.

"The NCAA didn't want to take responsibility to require test scores; they passed it along to the individual institutions," said Oklahoma's Gurney. "No university wants to unilaterally abandon NCAA standards. ... We're all in athletics for competition and who's going to restrict themselves?"

Instead, many administrators want the NCAA to set higher admission requirements that would apply to all schools.

"Every AD in the Big 12 is begging to raise initial eligibililty standards. Every AD. Not 10, not 11, but 12," said University of Texas men's athletics director DeLoss Dodds.

For some prospective college athletes, compiling a good GPA in high school has become the goal, since it allows them to get by with a poor SAT score, said Phil Hughes, Kansas State's associate athletic director for student services and the current president of the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics.

Brian Davis, who oversees academics for the Texas Longhorns football team, has asked groups of potential recruits: "Who's been told not to worry about the SAT?" Davis said he sees a significant number of athletes raise their hands. That troubles him because, if nothing else, preparing for the SAT can be good practice for studying for college tests.

As for high school grades, college advisers say they have been shocked to see how many athletes have been passed along.

"We're seeing some students with elementary skill sets," said one Big 12 adviser who asked not to be identified.

"In high schools, if they have one or two Division I athletes, it appears they are going to bend over backwards so that they meet the minimum academic standards," Hughes said. "It becomes this remarkable dance. Everything appears to be fine, and then you find out differently."

Middlebrook said academic advisers around the Big 12 almost immediately began seeing the effects of the new admission standards - students who needed a lot more attention, including an increased number with learning disabilities.

Such challenges have made it even more difficult for some institutions to hit the NCAA's goal of 60 percent graduation rates for athletes. Middlebrook said that some schools don't graduate 60 percent of their general student body yet are being held to the same standards as institutions that graduate almost all of their students.

"We're trying put a rule on everybody in the business," Middlebrook said. "But you're not even comparing apples to oranges. You're comparing apples to watermelons."

Advisers also are worried that meeting the stricter criteria - and avoiding NCAA penalties - will create conflicts of interests. What's best for the school might not be best for the athlete.

"It's anti-student development," Hughes said. "It creates restrictions on exploring different majors. Athletes may have to stick with a major whether they like it or not and might get a degree they don't care about."

Added Dodds, "We make decisions based on making the APR and not what's best for the students every day. And that's not right."; 445-3956

Graduation rate? Depends on which method you're using.
Sunday, October 28, 2007

A mix of methods

All sports produce statistics, and few stats are as confusing as those used to keep score on the academic side of college athletics. Graduation rates have been the standard for years, but there are several ways to calculate them. Now, the NCAA is using an academic progress rate, which tracks whether athletes are in good academic standing but does not account for whether they earn a degree.

Here are the various methods for tracking student-athletes and how the Longhorn football team fares under each:

Federal graduation rate

How it's calculated: Percentage of student-athletes who have graduated within six years. This rate is not popular with college administrators because students who transfer from a school count against that school's graduation rate even if they leave in good standing. The most recent data track four classes that entered from 1997-2000.

How Longhorn football fares:32 percent graduation rate, worst in the Big 12.

NCAA graduation success rate

How it's calculated: Similar to the federal rate but does not penalize schools for transfers who leave in good academic standing. The most recent data track four classes that entered from 1997 to 2000.

How Longhorn football fares: 42 percent graduation rate, worst in the Big 12.

AFCA graduation rate

How it's calculated: The American Football Coaches Association uses its own measurement, based on the percentage of student-athletes who have graduated after 51?2 years. Players who transfer in good standing do not count against a school. The rate tracks a single class - the most recent being those who entered in the 2001-02 school year - making it more susceptible to year-to-year fluctuations than the four-class averages used in the other graduation rate methods.

How Longhorn football fares: Texas was one of four Big 12 schools to be recognized for having a graduation rate higher than 70 percent.

Academic progress rate

How it's calculated: Relatively new NCAA measurement tracks whether current student-athletes are still in school and are in good academic standing. Most recent data are for classes that entered in 2003-05.

How Longhorn football fares: APR score of 944, best in the Big 12.

- John Maher

Texas competes in our APR Bowl

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Because wins and losses are the basic measuring sticks for sports, we devised a way to measure wins and losses for college teams' classroom performance.

We used the NCAA's academic progress rate (APR), the newest measure of academic success for student-athletes, to create a scorecard of sorts.

The APR is generally acknowledged to be a better measurement than graduation rates, which have an inherent lag time because they are usually based on students who entered school at least six years before the report. The APR is designed to provide a snapshot of current athletes' progress toward a degree.

Under the NCAA's formula for calculating the progress rate, each athlete can score two points, receiving one for returning to school and another for being in good academic standing. The APR consists of the total points scored by a team, divided by the total points possible and multiplied by 1,000. A score of 1,000 means every team member is on track to graduate. The NCAA's cutoff score for imposing penalties is 925, which would roughly translate into a 60 percent graduation rate.

We compared the APR scores of Longhorn teams with those of other schools. We only analyzed public universities, since private schools - such as Baylor, Notre Dame, Duke, Stanford and Southern Carl - have some inherent advantages over public universities in graduating athletes.

We compared sport-to-sport - Texas football vs. Michigan football, for example, or Texas women's tennis vs. Ohio State women's tennis - with the teams boasting the higher APR score earning a victory.

For example, UCLA compiled a 7-1 record against Texas in men's sports - that is, for the eight men's sports that both schools play, UCLA's teams had the higher academic progress rate in seven sports, while Texas led in one sport.

Our approach is different, but it's a valid one, says Walter Harrison, chairman of the NCAA's committee on academic performance and president of the University of Hartford. "If you look at exactly the same sports, you can compare institutions," Harrison said. "I believe that would be an accurate use of the data."

We've also included each school's 2008 ranking, according to U.S. News & World Report, to provide a gauge for the overall quality of education at each institution. The University of Texas tied for 44th in those rankings.

While UT men "lost" the bulk of our APR matchups, they did improve from the year before, when most of the few Division I-A schools they "defeated" ended up being hit with sanctions from the NCAA.

You can see a sport-by-sport breakdown of UT's matchup against other schools for the past two years with this story online at

- John Maher

SchoolU.S. News rank    Men vs. Texas men    Women vs. Texas women    
California 21st Cal wins 8-1 Texas wins 6-5
Virginia 23rd Virginia wins 8-1 Virginia wins 9-2
Michigan 25th Michigan wins 9-0 Michigan wins 7-2-2
UCLA 25th UCLA wins 7-1 Tie 5-5-1
North Carolina 28th Carolina wins 8-1 Carolina wins 7-3-1
Georgia Tech 35th Georgia Tech wins 7-2 Tie 4-4
Illinois 38th Illinois wins 6-2 Illinois wins 5-4-1
Wisconsin 38th Wisconsin wins 7-1 Wisconsin wins 7-3-1
Washington 42nd Washington wins 8-1 Washington wins 6-4-1
Penn State 48th Penn State wins 8-1 Penn State wins 6-2-2
Florida 49th Florida wins 8-1 Florida wins 6-3-1
Maryland 54th Maryland wins 7-1-1 Texas wins 7-3
Ohio State 57th Ohio State wins 8-1 Ohio States wins 6-5
Georgia 59th Georgia wins 6-3 Texas wins 6-4
Pittsburgh 59th Pittsburgh wins 6-1 Pittsburgh wins 5-4
Rutgers 59th Rutgers wins 9-0 Texas wins 6-4-1
Connecticut 64th UConn wins 6-3 Texas wins 6-4
Iowa 64th Iowa wins 8-1 Texas wins 6-5
Purdue 64th Purdue wins 5-4 Purdue wins 6-4
Clemson 67th Clemson wins 9-0 Texas wins 5-4
Michigan State 71st Michigan St. wins 8-1 Michigan St. wins 6-4-1
Minnesota 71st Minnesota wins 6-3 Texas wins 6-5
Virginia Tech 71st Virginia Tech wins 7-2 Texas wins 5-4
Indiana 75th Indiana wins 6-3 Indiana wins 6-5
North Carolina State     85th N.C. State wins 7-2 Texas wins 7-3
Alabama 91st Alabama wins 5-4 Alabama wins 6-4
Arizona 96th Texas wins 5-4 Texas wins 7-3
Auburn 96th Auburn wins 6-3 Texas wins 9-1
Tennessee 96th Texas wins 6-3 Texas wins 7-4

Texas vs. Big 12 universities
School Rank Men vs. Texas men Women vs Texas women
Texas A&M 62nd A&M wins 5-4 Texas wins 6-4
Baylor 75th Texas wins 4-3-1 Texas wins 5-4
Colorado 79th Texas wins 4-3 Texas wins 5-3
Iowa State 85th Texas wins 5-1 Tie 5-5
Kansas 85th Kansas wins 5-2 Texas wins 8-3
Missouri 91st Missouri wins 7-1 Missouri wins 6-4
Nebraska 91st Texas wins 5-3 Texas wins 7-2-1
Oklahoma 108th Tie 4-4 Texas wins 6-3
Kansas State 124th Texas wins 4-3 Texas wins 5-1-2
Oklahoma State     Third tier Oklahoma State wins 5-3     Texas wins 5-3
Texas Tech Third tier     Texas wins 5-3 Texas wins 5-4

APR report card for University of Texas
Sport Team APR Percentile rank within sport     Div. I-A avg.

Men's teams
Baseball 920 30th-40th 936
Basketball 893 10th-20th 922
Cross country 970 50-60th 962
Football 944 60th-70th 934
Golf 922 10th-20th 967
Swimming 927 1st-10th 965
Tennis 924 10th-20th 960
Indoor track 940 30th-40th 948
Outdoor track 942 30th-40th 948

Women's teams
Basketball 983 80th-90th 958
Cross country 903 1st-10th 971
Golf 991 70th-80th 980
Rowing 972 10th-20th 978
Soccer 981 60th-70th 972
Softball 990 80th-90th 968
Swimming 980 40th-50th 980
Tennis 1,000     80th-100th 973
Indoor track 937 10th-20th 962
Outdoor track     938 10th-20th 963
Volleyball 993 90th-100th 970

Horns of an academic dilemma
UT still trying to balance athletics and academics.

By John Maher
Sunday, October 28, 2007

Few athletics departments enjoy more triumphs on the field or bring in more money than the one at the University of Texas.

As DeLoss Dodds, the Longhorn men's athletics director once put it, "Everything that doesn't work around here, we fix."

In one area, however, success has been elusive and failure a continuing source of frustration for UT men's athletics: how Longhorn athletes perform in the classroom. Academics is the one worry, Dodds says, that keeps him up at night.

Recently, UT has been able to point to some signs that it is indeed fixing what has been broken - particularly in football and men's basketball - but academic advisers to Longhorn athletes still have plenty of challenges and history to overcome. Low graduation rates for football, baseball and men's basketball players stretch back to at least the 1980s and continue to this day.

This month, when the NCAA reported its six-year graduation rates, the Longhorns ranked last among Big 12 football teams, 11th among men's basketball teams and eighth among baseball teams. Each team posted rates below 50 percent; the NCAA's goal for student-athletes is 60 percent.

The story has been much the same for the football team for the past several seasons: Its graduation rate was worst in the Big 12 and second-lowest among all 64 bowl teams last year and was among the bottom three of Division I-A football in 2003 and 2004.

The men's basketball team that came within one win of the Final Four in 2006 had a graduation rate better than only two squads in the NCAA tournament's 65-team field.

In response to the most recent NCAA report, Dodds said that UT officials put more stock in the NCAA's newest measurement tool - called the academic progress rate - instead of graduation rates. The APR provides a current snapshot of how athletes are faring, while graduation rates tend to focus on problems well after the fact.

Yet in 2006, when the NCAA publicly unveiled APR ratings for schools for the first time, those numbers showed problems at UT that extended beyond the big-time revenue-generating sports such as football and basketball. Eight of Texas' 20 men's and women's teams failed to meet the NCAA's target APR score of 925. Four sports - men's golf, women's cross country, and women's indoor and outdoor track - ranked in the bottom 10th percentile of their sports.

UT's numbers have improved with the release of another year's worth of APR data, but an American-Statesman analysis shows that, among the schools that UT cites as its academic peers, male athletes in almost every sport are performing better academically than those at UT. The academic progress rates of two Longhorn teams were in the bottom 10th percentile for their sports, and six other teams ranked in the 10th to 20th percentile.

"We've got to do better," Dodds has said on more than one occasion.

What has made the Longhorns' shortcomings doubly vexing is that UT was a pioneer in academic support for athletes, beginning those efforts almost 50 years ago. UT spends about $2 million annually to assist athletes with their studies, about as much as any university.

In an effort to boost performance, UT athletics reorganized its academic counseling department nearly three years ago after the Longhorns' baseball, basketball and football teams each lost key players in 2004-05 because of academic lapses. The football program has modified its recruiting tactics in recent years to put more emphasis on recruits' academic standing, and the team's most recent academic progress rate, which reflects current athletes, was the best in the Big 12.

Dodds said he feels better about the academic side of UT athletics now than at any other time in his 27 years as the Longhorns' athletic director. UT officials maintain that the school can have both winning sports teams and true student-athletes.

"In the experience of the student-athlete, the 'student' part should be the priority. We work very hard to make sure that's the case," UT President William Powers Jr. said. "We're recruiting people who can do both of them. Academics come first."

Others, including some UT professors and former standout UT student-athletes, aren't so sure that's possible.

"The sheer dollar value of the sports operation overwhelms academic objections to using student-athletes to generate revenue and athletic glory," said John Hoberman, an author and a Germanic studies professor at UT.

Dusty Renfro, a former Longhorn linebacker who was UT's most recent first-team academic All-American in football,in 1997, said, "At Texas, you have world-class athletes, and they're competing with world-class students. It's hard to be both.

"For many athletes, academics are in second place. My priority was getting prepared for a football game. Think how much money you make off a home football game. If it's important to 85,000 people, it had better be important to you. There are sure as heck not 85,000 screaming people there when you take your English final."

Keeping 'em here

Like many things in UT athletics, academic support for athletes can be traced to Darrell Royal, who coached football at UT from 1957 to 1976. "The alumni and boosters were trying to get me to hire a full-time recruiter. But I wanted a full-time keep-'em-here," Royal once said.

To stanch the team's academic casualties, Royal hired Lan Hewlett, a bespectacled high school science teacher from Lockhart, to become college football's first "brain coach."

Hewlett worked at Texas through 1977, and UT had 18 first-team academic All-American football players during that stretch. It has had only five since. Royal has repeatedly called his hiring of Hewlett, and not the storied wishbone offense, his proudest contribution to college football.

Although only a few programs still run the wishbone, every one has academic advisers, and they're no longer one-person shops.

UT has a highly respected student services unit devoted to academic counseling, which is headed by Senior Associate Athletic Director Randa Ryan and Assistant Athletic Director Brian Davis and includes a staff of 13 who tutor athletes and monitor their progress.

Ryan frequently pops out of her knickknack-stuffed, photo-plastered Bellmont Hall office to quiz nearby athletes. Did you get your paper done last night? And what are you going to be studying tonight?

"I try to have a very positive environment," said Ryan, who said she doesn't dwell on SAT scores or grade-point averages. "I see faces, not numbers."

The athletes she deals with are bright enough to do well at UT, Ryan said. "For some, it's a confidence issue. You want them to have success early."

Ryan has said one goal is to have teams at or above a 3.0 GPA. She said that 13 of 15 men's basketball players have met that mark. Not long ago, the basketball team struggled to make a 2.0.

Ryan headed the UT women's academic program for a decade before being promoted almost three years ago after high-profile athletes such as basketball's P.J. Tucker, baseball's Sam LeCure and football's Selvin Young were declared ineligible because of academic shortcomings. Ryan was personally credited with helping Tucker regain his eligibility. Young also improved his grades and returned to his team; LeCure left school for the major-league draft.

Ryan now heads the men's and women's programs with the exception of football, which remains the domain of Davis, whose work with football coach Mack Brown dates to their days at North Carolina.

Texas football now fares well - better than any other UT men's sport - when its academic progress rate is compared with the same sport from other schools.

Davis said some of that improvement can be traced to coach Mack Brown's changes in recruiting."I've been with Mack for 20 years, and for the first 16, I would never say you can't recruit this kid," Davis said. Davis said that, in years past, he wouldn't have wanted to risk the ire of assistant coaches if an academic risk ended up starring for a rival.

The NCAA's academic reform, including scholarship penalties for poor academic performance, has helped change the recruiting climate. So has Brown's experience at UT.

Brown's vaunted 2002 recruiting class - highlighted by quarterback Vince Young and generally acknowledged to be the best in the country - helped Texas win the 2005 national title, but many of those players fared far worse in the classroom. Ten of the 27 players from that class left UT, and academic problems played a big part in at least four of those departures.

Two academic casualties from that class say Texas' support system was not to blame for their failings.

"I didn't have my priorities in order. It's not any different than having a job. It's a business," said Mike Williams, a defensive lineman at UT who played this past season with the Austin Wranglers of the Arena Football League.

Wide receiver Robert Timmons also left school. He recalled: "I was able to get tutors. It was more my fault. I wish I was going to Texas at 22 instead of 19."

The gap

When the NCAA adopted a code for athletics in 1948, one tenet was that athletes should be held to the same academic standards as the general student body.

Now, however, advisers have to deal with what Gerald Gurney, the University of Oklahoma's senior associate athletic director for academic affairs, calls "the gap." That's the difference between the academic background of the average student on campus and that of the student who's been given special admission consideration because of his athletic potential.

Oklahoma has a gap. So does Texas. So does Harvard. So does Rice, which considered dropping its Division I-A football program several years ago partly because of the gap between football players and the general student body.

The gap isn't only in football and basketball; in varying degrees, it's in almost men's and women's sport at UT. The exception is rowing, where most of the athletes are recruited after they arrive on campus.

The gap can be seen in SAT scores or in high school grades. Of the 107 athletes admitted at UT this year, only 13 were in the top 10 percent of their high school classes, said Bruce Walker, vice provost and director of admissions at UT. By comparison, of the student body as a whole, 71 percent of in-state undergraduates qualified for admission because they were in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating class.

In 1997, a bill requiring college athletes in Texas to meet the same admission standards as other students passed the Texas House before being derailed in the Senate. "We would be dropped from the Big 12 and bumped down from Division I to Division III," Dodds protested then.

An academic adviser at one Big 12 school who asked not to be identified said he's seen an athlete at his school test as low as the third-grade level. Dodds said UT did not have such extreme cases.

But at UT, male athletes do face the same gender gap as all men on campus. Women, across all major ethnic groups, now graduate from UT at a significantly higher rate than men.

Patricia Somers, an associate professor of higher education at UT who has written about college student persistence, said men who are most at risk are those from lower economic backgrounds and those who are the first in their family to go to college.

"If you look at athletics," she said, "it might compound issues that they had to begin with."

Or as Sean Braswell, a former Longhorn baseball player who became a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard Law School graduate, put it: "Texas may be a victim of its own success. It's a tug-of-war, and they're pulling on both ends. The better athletes you recruit, the more options they have and the less important academics become."

Out of breath, out of time

Once athletes arrive on campus, they face time demands that other students don't.

"The athletes are working harder than the average student," Braswell said. "It's just that their efforts are being diverted."

Braswell, an infielder for UT from 1996 to 1999, excelled more in the classroom than at Disch-Falk Field. "One of the reasons I was probably mediocre is that I wasn't in the batting cage until 7 or 8 o'clock at night," he said. "We would sign our NCAA time sheets (used for regulating weekly practice time), but we were putting in a minimum of 15 (voluntary) hours on top of that."

Renfro, the former linebacker, said he would spend as many as 20 hours a week watching football video on his own. As for workouts, he said, "The issue is the physical aspect of it. You gave it everything you had, and the rest of the day you're totally exhausted, physically, emotionally and mentally. You want to go to sleep, but sleep is something you have to give up if you're going to do well at school. I had to fight to keep my eyes open."

Voluntary summer workouts have now become routine for college athletes, as have summer classes in response to the NCAA's increased requirements for progress toward a degree.

"The kids don't have time to breathe," Ryan said.

Changing tides

Athletics and academics can be a culture clash for both sides. A 1993 poll taken by an ad hoc committee on academics and athletics found that almost two-thirds of UT's high-ranking faculty members either strongly agreed or agreed that Longhorn athletics received too much emphasis. Classics professor Tom Palaima contends that athletics and academics are often at cross purposes and that athletes often don't experience a true college education.

"This cocoon effect is an American tragedy," Palaima said.

Although officials at Texas say there's no academic track for athletes, a report given to UT's faculty council within the past two years showed more than five dozen male athletes majoring in some form of kinesiology and only a handful in biology, chemistry and computer science.

"School was just something that came along with football," said former Longhorn football player Tully Janszen, who graduated with a kinesiology degree in May. "It was something I had to do to stay eligible."

While addressing UT's men's athletics council recently, Davis said he was seeing signs of a sea change as former UT athletes, including the professional ones, return to earn their degrees. There are other signs of progress. Last fall, the football team led the Big 12 with 24 players on the academic all-conference team, which recognizes players with GPAs of 3.0 or higher. This spring, UT was one of 32 football teams recognized by the American Football Coaches Association for graduating at least 70 percent of players from the 2001 signing class. Last week, the football team's center, Dallas Griffin, was named one of 15 finalists for the Draddy Trophy, the so-called "academic Heisman" given to the nation's top scholar football player.

And Dodds said that in the next batch of the academic progress rates, which usually are made public in the spring, Texas will hit or surpass the NCAA's cutoff score in every sport.

Yet there are no guarantees that improvements will last. A little more than a decade ago, former Texas football coaches John Mackovic and David McWilliams had combined to recruit four classes with a high school GPA of 3.07, trailing only those at Stanford, Rice, Northwestern and Duke.

"I think you'll find the best teams tend to be a little brighter," Mackovic said in 1994. But his teams didn't win enough, and, like McWilliams, he was replaced, a transition cited by Texas officials for low graduation rates in succeeding years.

In college athletics, Kansas State Associate Athletics Director Phil Hughes said, "Talent will always trump an APR. ... Talent is required to generate the money."

Dodds acknowledges such pressures at Texas.

"They want us to win," Dodds said of Longhorn fans and boosters, "but if we win the wrong way, it would be as bad as losing."; 445-3956

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