If you're going pro, going to class is a bad idea.
At the tail end of last week UConn got a mountain of bad press when it was revealed the school scored an incredibly low 11 percent on the NCAA's Graduation Success Rate metric. That got the reaction you'd expect it to, but then a fan on The Boneyard took a closer look at the numbers and pointed out that it really wasn't as bad as it seemed. I talked about it on twitter for a while, and then Kevin Duffy, newly-appointed (by me) King of the Horde, broke it all down in a neat clean fashion. You see, only 11 percent of UConn's players graduated or left school "in good standing," but 83 percent of players the study considered are currently playing professional basketball. That second number -- the 83 percent -- tends to put things in a much different light. After all, one of the biggest draws of playing basketball at UConn is the chance to go on to a professional career, and I wonder how many other departments at UConn have their students employed in their chosen field at that rate -- I'd guess not many.
So the GSR isn't perfect, and for a school like UConn (or Kentucky, or Duke, or any other elite school) it is probably more likely to be misleading than it is enlightening. But that's not quite the end of the story, because the NCAA built the GSR with a convenient out for itself and with one last bit of ammo for UConn's critics: the term "in good standing." This is because when the NCAA calculates the GSR it removes students who left school "in good standing" from the denominator, which means its technically possible to have a school get a perfect rating despite having plenty of transfers or early-entrants to the NBA.
That's a nice idea in theory, but in reality any school that is keeping professional-bound players around to make sure they leave "in good standing" is doing their athletes an incredible disservice. Take Jeff Adrien for example. Adrien, who left UConn after his senior season in 2009, did not graduate and was counted against UConn in this year's GSR. Now, I don't know what Adrien's transcript looked like, and I don't know how far away he was from graduating, but I do know that he was a marginal NBA talent and that when I look at the picture on the top of his post I see him in an NBA uniform. Why? I can't say for sure, but I bet at least part of it has to do with training (he was working out in San Francisco) and workouts for scouts and NBA teams from the end of UConn's Final Four run in April 2009 until the NBA draft in June.
Now, Adrien wasn't even drafted -- he played in the NBA's summer league and then Europe for a year before making a final roster -- but I bet his training and exposure in that period has been worth way more to him at this point in time than a liberal arts degree possibly could have been. (And yes, I know basketball careers aren't forever -- but academic credits are, and when his playing days are done Adrien can finish his degree if he still wants it.)
For 99.9 percent of students finishing their degree is an unquestionably good decision, but for potential pro basketball players (you don't have this problem in football, where students can finish the end of the fall semester to stay eligible for a bowl game then leave school to train for the draft without enrolling for the spring) it makes all the sense in the world to focus on training and promoting themselves for a shot at the league. That April, May and June window is their best shot at a paycheck and they should take it. You wouldn't tell a student headed to Med or Law school not to study for the MCAT or LSAT, and you shouldn't tell a potential basketball player not to prep for their big test either.
There is one huge caveat in this -- and it's a place where UConn does deserve blame: transfer students. UConn's GSR took a hit because some players left for a paycheck without being in good academic standing -- but it was also impacted by players headed to different schools who didn't get their coursework together. That's an inexcusable oversight on UConn's part, which definitely hurt the school's APR score (leading to the postseason ban) and probably hurt the GSR score (leading to more bad press). It's especially bad since UConn can refuse to release a player unless they get their grades in order.
I'll add two final things. First, you won't see it in any of the press releases about the release of the GSR, but the numbers used this time around were for students who entered in 2002-06, however, the GSR wasn't implemented until 2005. I know it will stun UConn fans to know that the NCAA is using something retroactive to make them look bad, but there you go. Second, the numbers released last week reflect a different era in UConn basketball. This is a reflection of the players coming in (and going out) five or ten years ago, it's not a reflection of what's going on today. The school has beefed-up its NCAA compliance division and its APR scores have been skyrocketing of late.