Cal football: Bears make huge leap in latest Academic Progress Rate scores

Three years after he inherited a Cal football program with its academic reputation in shambles, coach Sonny Dykes’ team has earned its best Academic Progress Rate four-year average score since 2008-09.

The Bears scored 997 of a maximum 1,000 points on the APR scale for the 2014-15 academic year, raising their four-year average to 960, according to figures released by the NCAA on Wednesday.

Cal ranked last in the Pac-12 the past three years, but its four-year average now is tied for eighth in the conference. The 19-point jump from 941 last year was the best in the conference.

The Bears’ 997 score for 2014-15 ties for the highest in the Pac-12, and is the second-best in program history. Cal football had sub-930 scores in consecutive seasons before Dykes’ hiring.

“The issue we were dealing with early was we had some (academic) numbers that weren’t very good,” Dykes said. “A lot of these kids came to Cal with a leap of faith. They’re the guys that did it.

“To go from one of the worst to one of the best just shows what kind of hard work and effort and character these guys have.”

The NCAA uses APR to track eligibility, retention and graduation, providing a gauge for each team’s academic performance.

The Cal men’s basketball team was among a school-record 13 sports that posted scores of 1,000. The perfect score came in coach Cuonzo Martin’s first season of 2014-15 and boosted the program’s four-year average to 960, matching the football team’s score over the same span.

Cal athletic director Mike Williams was pleased by the progress of the Bears’ two most high-profile programs.

“Under Sonny Dykes, our football program’s trajectory remains on an upward path, and the first-year results for our men’s basketball team under Cuonzo Martin couldn’t be any better,” he said in a statement.

The Cal women’s basketball program scored 949 for 2014-15 and its four-year average of 973 represents a 13-point improvement from last year and ranks ninth in the Pac-12.

The Cal men’s tennis program scored 1,000 for the seventh straight season and the women’s tennis team has posted a perfect mark six years in a row.

Other Cal programs that scored 1,000 were women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s cross country, women’s golf, men’s gymnastics, women’s lacrosse, men’s soccer, men’s swimming & diving, and men’s and women’s water polo.


Academics: Football, men’s basketball make small improvements in grade-rate scores

The Cal football and men’s basketball teams, whose poor academic performance received scrutiny in recent years, made incremental improvement in the latest Graduation Success Rate (GSR) data released by the NCAA.

The football program improved one percent from 2014, eight percent from two years ago to a 52-percent graduation rate. The men’s basketball program scored 55 percent, up nine points from last fall and 17 points since the 2013 report.

Cal’s GSR scores remain last in the Pac-12 in football, but have inched to No. 9 in men’s basketball.

The information used to generate the GSR is based on scholarship student-athletes who arrived as freshmen or transfers from 2005-08 and completed their degrees within six years. As a result, none of the athletes involved in the current results played for either Cal football coach Sonny Dykes or basketball coach Cuonzo Martin.

As recently as 2013, Cal’s GSR for football was 44 percent, worst in the Pac-12. The men’s basketball program ranked no better than second-to-last in the conference for six straight years through 2013 and had not reported a GSR score above 50 percent dating back to at least the 2004-05 school year.

Cal stresses that the classroom performance of its football and basketball players is better reflected by looking at the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR). The football team showed a 46-point APR jump from 2011-12 to 2012-13, and the university expects another leap when the next results are released in the spring.

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Admissions: New standards to challenge Bears

To build a football contender in the Pac-12 Conference, Cal coach Sonny Dykes will need to deal with more than Oregon, Stanford and the Los Angeles schools. He also must contend with a new admission policy, implemented by the school.

Most Cal athletes going forward will be required to have a 3.0 grade-point average in high school. That’s substantially lower than the general student body at Cal, but it’s higher than any Pac-12 school except Stanford. The new standards begin to go into effect this fall, when 40 percent of the incoming athletes must have a 3.0 GPA or better. That number climbs to 60 percent next year and to 80 percent in 2017.

Can Cal thrive on the sports field — particularly in football and men’s basketball — facing those demands in the classroom in the ferocious modern landscape of intercollegiate sports?

Dykes said he is confident the Bears can win games and graduate players. “I believe that more strongly today than I did when I took the job,” said Dykes, who was hired in December 2012.

Basketball coach Cuonzo Martin, coming off his first season at Cal, is just as optimistic as Dykes that the higher academic standards won’t impact the won-lost record. “You understand it’s a tremendous institution when you take over the job. You know what you’re getting into.”

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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.”