David Climer: UT's bad APR shows deeper troubles

9:37 AM, Jun 14, 2013   |    comments
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By David Climer | The Tennessean

When Wimp Sanderson was coaching Alabama's basketball team in the '80s, he once was asked how many of his players graduated.

His response: "All of 'em that want to."

It was classic Wimp and his audience responded with laughter and nodding heads. At the time, it was an honest, common sense thing to say.

Well, the game has changed. These days, we're keeping score on everything, including the progress athletes are making toward graduation. It's not just about W's and L's anymore. You have to pay attention to your APR -- Academic Progress Rate.

All of which brings us around to the University of Tennessee's football program and its lousy APR. Numbers came out this week showing a single-year score of 909 and a multiyear score of 924 for Vols football.

What do those numbers mean? The NCAA uses APR to measure eligibility and progress toward a degree. A 925 RPI predicts a 50 percent graduation rate.

Another way of looking at UT's numbers: The multiyear score of 924 is the equivalent of four losing seasons in the past five years, and the single-year score of 909 is like a 1-7 record in the SEC.

In other words, the Vols have been as bad in the classroom as they have on the field. No wonder they couldn't get the right number of players in the huddle. They couldn't count to 11.

If UT doesn't get with the program, the Vols will be ineligible for a bowl in the 2014 season. Feel free to insert your joke about UT's bowl-worthiness in 2014 here.

Let's be clear: Despite all the alarmists out there, the UT football program is not in the process of being shut down. Far from it. The hiring of Butch Jones has given Vol Ball a fresh start on the field, in recruiting and academically. The combined GPA of 2.8 by UT football players in the spring semester -- the first on Jones' watch -- is the highest since the university started cataloging individual sports 10 years ago.

Also, UT hired Dr. Joe Scogin away from Missouri to oversee academics for UT's athletics department. Missouri's APR: 987 for the last year on record and 982 over a four-year period.

That's all well and good, but how did Vols football get to this point? And how many people were asleep at the wheel as academics slipped?

Certainly, the instability at head coach is a big part of the problem. Jones is UT's fourth football coach since 2008. More than 30 players that signed with Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley over the previous four years left the program for various reasons or never played for UT. That kind of attrition takes a toll on the APR.

Yes, Dooley is a convenient scapegoat. When you're picking up a $5 million buyout after going a combined 16-21 in three seasons, you can afford to take an extra share or two of blame.

More and more, we are finding that Dooley fixated on the minutia of his job while failing to grasp the big picture. Academic shortcomings are an example. His football team went 5-7 and lost to Kentucky in the fall of 2010 and then posted a dismal 2.08 GPA in the spring semester of 2011. That alone should have gotten him fired.

But it goes beyond coaching changes in general and Dooley in particular. Leadership, not only in the athletics department but also for the entire university, has been lacking for years.

Mike Hamilton's resignation as athletics director in June 2011 after his botched handling of the Bruce Pearl fiasco -- among other things -- gave UT a fresh start. Despite some glitches, things appear to have settled down under Dave Hart. But where was the oversight from above when the academic performance of the football team was getting so out of whack?

Former UT President Andy Holt used to call the athletics department, and particularly the football program, "the front porch of the university." It's a line that was borrowed by Joe Johnson, one of Holt's successors.

Unfortunately, those in leadership positions more recently haven't been paying attention.

The front porch needs painting.

David Climer's columns appear on Friday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. Contact him at 615-259-8020 or dclimer@tennessean.com.

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