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Sun Devil athletes score big in the classroom

ASU student-athlete Nick Kelly
May 27, 2015

ASU football player Nick Kelly can attest to the fact that the academic challenges he once faced as a freshman can be daunting. With classroom demands, study hours and practice eating up his entire day, he was unsure how he could juggle being a student-athlete.

“I quickly discovered that football can take over your life if you allow it,” said the 21-year-old, who plays center for the team and will be a senior in the fall. “That freshman year was an eye-opener and made me realize I had to make disciplined choices if I wanted to succeed.”

Many ASU student-athletes like Kelly are steadily conquering those challenges: On May 27, the NCAA reported that the university recorded an Academic Progress Rate (APR) average of 986, ASU’s best-ever score and third-highest in the Pac-12 Conference behind Stanford and Washington.

“The APR metric gives us a real-time view of eligibility and retention of our student-athletes,” said Jean Boyd, senior associate athletic director for the Office of Student-Athlete Development. “We have continued to elevate our average across all sports to an all-time high of 986. The APR is a predictor of graduation, and we are on our way toward meeting our ultimate goal of 90 percent graduation success rate.”

The APR, which has been recorded since 2003, awards points to student-athletes who meet academic eligibility standards such as satisfactory progress, GPA and percentage of degree and who remain with the institution. This year a 930 cut score was implemented by the NCAA Board of Directors. In two years, any sport below this mark will be penalized with the loss of postseason.

Kelly, who has a 3.5 GPA, credits Boyd’s office and ASU head football coach Todd Graham for giving him the tools and discipline to stay on top of his studies through a combination of study hall, academic advisers and counselors. He said Graham in particular has a take-no-prisoners attitude when it comes to students missing class or not making  grades.

“Coach Graham has people checking on us if we miss a class. If he finds out, you pay for it on the field. You’d better not miss class or you will have more exercise awaiting you when you get to practice,” Kelly said. “What he really wants is for all of us is to get our degrees and to be successful in life.”

Last week the NCAA recognized ASU as being in the top-10 percentile of their sports nationally, and that seven sports – baseball, men’s basketball, men’s golf, softball, women’s cross country, women’s tennis and volleyball – were recognized for academic achievement in the classroom. Two of the seven – men’s basketball and baseball – scored 1,000, a marked improvement from the beginning of the APR program when they were at risk of having low APR scores.

Additionally, women’s tennis is the only team among the Division 1 Power Five conferences that has recorded perfect APR scores for the lifetime of the metric. It is also the only perfect-scoring program in the Pac-12.

Jeffrey Wilson, who serves as ASU's faculty athletics representative and is an economics professor at the W. P. Carey School of Business, said he is pleased with the results but not entirely satisfied.

"It is the continued upward trend of the vision of President Crow and (Athletics Director) Ray Anderson with the huge commitment to the academic well-being of our student-athletes," Wilson said. "We want them all to graduate and go on to become bigger successes than they were on the field. They are not satisfied. They may want to celebrate this, but it will not be for long because they do not want to be first, second or third ... they want 1,000."