Academics: Cal tightens admissions standards — 80 percent of freshmen must have 3.0 GPAs by 2017-18

By the 2017-18 school year, Cal football’s incoming freshman class will include no more than five players who achieved lower than a 3.0 grade-point average in high school, according to a new student-athlete admissions policy.

The policy, approved Oct. 17 by the UC Berkeley Academic Senate, will go into effect for the 2015-16 school year and will gradually bring athlete admissions into closer alignment with those of the general student body.

For 2017-18, at least 80 percent of all incoming athletes at Cal will have the minimum 3.0 GPA in high school that is required of all other students applying to the university. No more than 20 percent will be admitted through a separate process involving scrutiny by the UC Director of Admissions and the Student-Athlete Admissions Committee (SAAC).

Panos Papadopoulos, chair of the Academic Senate, confirmed that a typical freshman football recruiting class of 25 in 2017-18 would have no more than five members who arrived with below a 3.0 GPA.

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Academics: Football, basketball make GSR strides

The Cal football and men’s basketball teams made improvements, according to the latest Graduation Success Rate scores released on Tuesday, but both teams still rank last in the Pac-12 Conference

The football team made a seven-point gain to 51 percent and the men’s basketball program climbed by eight points to 46 percent.

Cal’s GSR score for football a year ago was 44 percent, worst in the Pac-12 Conference, and represented a decline for the third straight year after a peak of 65 percent in 2009-10.

The men’s basketball program ranked no better than second-to-last in the Pac-12 for the previous six years, and has not had a GSR score above 50 percent dating back to at least the 2004-05 results.

The latest GSR results measure graduation rates for incoming freshmen or transfers who arrived in the four-year period from 2004 to 2007 and completed their degrees within six years.

Cal interim athletic director Michael Williams said he is encouraged by the classroom progress of the Bears’ high-profile teams.

“We are focused on and quite proud of the turnaround we are seeing in both our football and men’s basketball programs,” he said in a statement.

“It takes a while to move a four-year average, such as the GSR, and we recognize that.

“There are areas where we are not pleased with our score, but our focus is on what we are doing moving forward.”

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Football: Dykes supportive of Task Force findings but declines to speculate on details of admission policy

Coach Sonny Dykes, in his first public comments on results of the Task Force on Academics and Athletics, said he is supportive of the findings, but declined specific comment on coming changes to the admissions policy.

“What does it all look like? I think it’s too early to tell,” he said during his weekly Sunday night media teleconference. “It doesn’t do a lot of good for me to speculate. I don’t know a lot of the details yet. I don’t think they’ve been decided yet.”

In fact, while the task force said athletes will generally face the same admissions standards as the entire student body in the future, the exact admission policy still is being revised, according to Panos Papadopoulos, chair of the Academic Senate, which determines admission standards.

“I’m in favor of all the things the NCAA has done in terms of making life better for student-athletes,” Dykes said. “At the same time, I’m also in favor of expecting more and more academically from them. These kids are capable of that.

“Like most kids, if you set high expectations, they’re going to meet those expectations. I’ve been in favor of all the things that have taken place, all the changes to make them more accountable.

“Our mission is to graduate student-athletes. That’s what they come to college for. I really believe this university wants to do things the right way . . . have tremendous success on the field, but have tremendous success in the classroom. That’s something that can clearly happen.”

When hired after the 2012 football season, Dykes was given a mandate to improve the football program’s academic performance. Athletic director Michael Williams said Friday that about 80 football players attended summer school and posted an average GPA of 3.0.

“I’m really proud of what’s going on in our program right now academically,” Dykes said. “I like their commitment to academics, their maturity, the way they balance football and academics.”


Academics: Chancellor says Bears can play with the best despite new academic admission standards

Cal embarked on a new academic path for athletics on Friday, pledging to recruit only students it believes can graduate while insisting it will be competitive with any opponent on the playing field.

Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said he accepted all 54 recommendations made by the Task Force on Academics and Athletics that he commissioned, and that two key elements will be a revised admissions policy and the commitment to provide student-athletes the support they need to succeed.

*** Click here for the entire 109-page Task Force report.

The changes don’t mark the end of Cal as a competitive entry in the Pac-12 Conference, said Dirks and interim athletic director Michael Williams.

“We intend to be second to no other university in terms of our commitment to the academic success of our student-athlete,” Dirks said at a 90-minute news briefing. “We intend to be not just competitive, but an institution that wins in athletics just as it wins in academics.”

Williams, who served on the 20-member task force but did not vote, said he accepted the graduation target of 91 to 92 percent for each sport, reflecting the campus-wide average.

“We have an obligation to make sure we don’t bring anyone in who we don’t believe can graduate,” Williams said. “It seems appropriate that we have our athletes graduate on a par with the rest of the campus.”

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Academics: Task Force responds to recent grad woes

Academic changes are coming to Cal athletics.

In response to recent historically poor graduation rates by the football and men’s basketball teams, the Chancellor’s Task Force on Athletics and Academics submitted its report Friday morning, with recommendations that range from possible revisions to the athletic admissions policy to better integration of athletes into the campus culture.

Chancellor Nicholas Dirks was expected to endorse many of the more than 50 recommendations made by the 20-member panel that spent eight months trying to assure that Cal athletes have “a meaningful academic experience.”

Dirks, interim athletic director Michael Williams and other campus leaders scheduled a media briefing for late Friday morning where details of the recommendations would be provided.

*** Click here for the Chancellor’s letter. And here for interim athletic director Michael Williams’ response.

The task force reported that the eight sports teams with the lowest Graduation Success Rates from 2003 to 2010 often featured student-athletes whose SAT scores and high-school grade-point averages projected difficulties competing in the classroom at Cal.

“These data are deeply troubling in that it appears that many of these student-athletes who did not graduate (from Cal) were not fully prepared for the combination of the athletic and academic rigors of their Berkeley experience,” the task force wrote.

As a result, it appears admissions standards for athletes will be adjusted. The university’s Academic Senate, which sets admissions policies, accepted suggestions from the task force and wrote that “the admission of student-athletes, regardless of sport, shall be governed by the same general policies and procedures used in the evaluation and selection of applicants from the general admissions pool.”

At the same time, that group said that process must not limit Cal’s ability to compete for top prospects, but must feature “a level of predictability and confidence will satisfy all demands for academic accountability without compromising the ability to recruit and retain competitive athletic talent.”

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Report due this week from Cal’s Task Force on Academics and Athletics

Nine months after coming together to address poor classroom performance and graduation rates by the football and men’s basketball teams, Cal’s Task Force on Academics and Athletics has submitted a working draft of its report to Chancellor Nicholas Dirks.

Michael Williams, Cal’s interim athletic director and a member of the 18-person task force, confirmed that Dirks was spending his weekend reviewing the recommendations and that a final version of the report should be made public this week.

Williams said he isn’t sure which recommendations Dirks will accept, but said the report is more of a “strategic document” than a study of the recent past.

“It’s much more about where will we be 10 years from now than where we’ve been,” he said.

The panel’s theme focuses on “reintegrating student-athletes to the campus, making sure we have a more inclusive culture with the faculty and undergrads who are not student-athletes,” Williams said.

The task force, headed by anthropology professor and Cal grad Meg Conkey, included faculty, staff, alums and current students and came together after Cal’s football Academic Progress Rate scores in September 2013 ranked last in the Pac-12 and fifth-worst among schools from the five power conferences.

The football program’s 2013 graduation success rate, for students who entered school in the fall of 2006, was just 44 percent.

Dirks asked his task force for “bold” solutions, and Williams said the group devoted “literally thousands” of hours to exploring the issues. They spoke with campus CEOs, athletic directors and admissions officers at other universities, as well as staff, faculty and both current and past students at Cal.

“We focused on campus climate, what it means to be an undergraduate in the 21st century,” Williams said. “We tried to look at things in a thoughtful way for the betterment of our student-athletes.”


Athletics: Lt. Governor Newsom wants next Cal AD to be contractually accountable to academic improvement

California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom has turned up the heat on Cal’s search for its next athletic director.

Newsom, a member of the UC Regents, wrote a letter to University of California president Janet Napolitano reminding everyone of recent poor graduation rates by Cal athletes in football and basketball.

Newsom argued that academic improvement should be a mandate included in the contract of the university’s next AD, with the failure to do so grounds for termination.

Here is an excerpt of his letter:

“The resignation of the UC Berkeley athletic director Sandy Barbour triggered a nationwide search for her replacement; this gives the search committee the opportunity to prioritize academics. The next director must put academics first and be held accountable through direct financial and contractual obligations.

“The athletic director’s contract should stipulate aggressive benchmarks for improvement in graduation and academic progress rates or face termination, period. We cannot skirt around the edges of the problem. If our goal as a university is to educate, then we should make it a contractual priority. I propose we start with the UC Berkeley athletic director, but this is only a beginning. It is my hope that we make this the new standard for every athletic program.”


Athletics: Williams calls interim AD a `dream job’

During his days as a student at Cal, Michael Williams considered it a special coup that he knew someone with keys to old Harmon Gym, allowing him and his friends to play late-night pickup basketball.

As interim athletic director at Cal, Williams, 53, is now that guy.

“When I went up to Memorial Stadium and I had a pass that opened the football offices, it was unbelievable,” Williams said Wednesday during his first media interview since being given the keys to operate Cal’s entire athletic department.

“There are elements of this that are just a dream job,” said Williams, a former Cal wrestler now retired from a successful career in investment management. “When you think about it as a fan, I get to talk to all the coaches whenever I want. And I get to interact with the student-athletes.”

A resident of Lafayette, married with three children, Williams officially began his job Wednesday as interim replacement for Sandy Barbour, moved to a different position on campus by Chancellor Nicholas Dirks.

But Williams actually has been at work for about three weeks now, not counting volunteer assignments that include serving as a trustee for the U.C. Berkeley Foundation, working on the chancellor’s Task Force for Academic and Athletics and on the search committee for a new provost.

Dirks said Williams was the only person he asked to take this assignment, which could last close to a year. “He’s somebody for whom it was a natural,” said Dirks, explaining that he will rely on Williams’ input as he conducts the search for Cal’s next permanent athletic director.

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APR report: Bears make progress on some fronts, but plenty of room for improvement

The Bears made progress in football and women’s basketball but took a step back in men’s basketball, according to Academic Progress Rate scores released by the NCAA on Wednesday. 

The football program’s score, originally released on May 5, improved from 935 to 938, thanks to a 2012-13 mark of 969. The Bears’ APR still ranks just 11th in the Pac-12.

The men’s basketball team dipped from 955 last year to 939 because a perfect 1,000 single-year score from 2008-09 was pushed out of the equation for a 938 mark in 2012-13.

The Cal women’s team improved from 941 last year to 954, but still ranks just 11th in the conference.

APR scores are a four-year average that measure academic eligibility and retention or graduation. The APR is different than the the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate, which strictly charts graduation figures.

The latest figures cover the four-year period ending with the 2012-13 academic year.

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