Varying GPAs dependent on roster size, coach turnover
Editor’s note: This is the third story in a series about student-athletes’ academics at Central Michigan University. This story compares and contrasts GPAs among athletic teams at CMU.
It’s no secret that academic performances and graduation rates vary across the 14 different athletic programs at Central Michigan University.
Roster size, player demographic, coaching tenure and the thought of professional sports are variables that have impacted the academic world of student-athletes nationally.
Director of Athletics Dave Heeke said roster size has varying effects on academic reports by sport, calling it a numbers game.
Roster size varies between programs from 14 spots on the men’s basketball and women’s volleyball teams to 102 on the football team.
“(Football) has a very large roster, which is a lot different than basketball or other small roster sports where you can maintain closer contact and connection with those student athletes,” Heeke said.
Volleyball head coach Erik Olson said having a deeper roster could be deemed beneficial at times, since a small roster increases academic risk.
“A big roster team can hide a bad performance, where someone who really bombs in a year will really affect the team’s GPA,” Olson said. “Each sport has its challenges, but, generally with volleyball, the demographic is high-scoring in the classroom.”
Programs that historically recruit athletes from lower-class backgrounds have produced lower academic numbers, which men’s basketball coach Keno Davis said isn’t meant to be an excuse.
“I think why you’re looking at lower rates in (men’s basketball and football) has to do with the recruiting process and of the sports that have more inner-city recruits,” Davis said. “That’s not saying it’s good or bad; we just understand those rates are going to be below other sports. I think it plays a role when kids are growing up and (professional sports) might be an escape for them. To have a career and see the money potentially there – there’s that outlet that athletics bring.”
Men’s basketball and football are programs also more commonly known for coaching turnover, which Heeke said has been an issue at CMU.
“The more consistency you can have in coaching staff, the better you’re going to be – that’s a big part of academic success,” Heeke said. “I think we’ve been very fortunate to have strong consistency in our coaching staffs by large. I believe that’s unique in our profession and certainly in the Mid-American Conference.”
The women’s soccer program has been a victim of recent turnover, with four different head coaches since 2004.
Despite three different coaches in her college career, junior forward Jennifer Gassman said each coach has stressed academics equally.
“They’re pretty much all the same as far as putting extremely high stress on grades,” the Indiana native said. “If we get below a certain GPA, we can lose part of our scholarship.”
Nationally, the team finished first in GPA for the sixth consecutive year in the 2010-11 academic year, and all 28 players finished with at least a 3.0.
The big stage
The three sports that have produced the lowest graduation rates and fewest academic accolades – football, men’s basketball and baseball – are the same three that have the highest rate of athletes playing professionally after college.
Athletes in these sports are continuously conscious of the possibility of making it to the big leagues, wide receiver and Illinois native Titus Davis said.
“We know that’s the ultimate goal for us, basketball and baseball; that’s really what we’ve wanted to do since we were younger,” Davis said. “If there’s a chance to do that, we’ll probably take that opportunity first.”
Sophomore outfielder Nick Regnier said Major League Baseball’s popularity takes its toll on academics.
“Baseball has the most people who make it professionally, so a lot of people see it as a goal they can reach and don’t take school as seriously as they could,” the Novi native said.
Five Chippewas were taken in the MLB draft in 2012, while 11 are currently on NFL rosters, and one has made it to the NBA since 2003.
Rankings, standings and statistics are the epitome of athletics, and the academia of student-athletes is no different.
Nine of the 14 athletic programs at CMU reported a cumulative 3.0 GPA, and many are competing with each other academically.
“We’re pretty competitive, and, actually, this fall, we got together and decided we wanted to compete for the Dick Enberg highest GPA for a women’s sport award,” Gymnastics Head Coach Jerry Reighard said.
In 2010-11, the women’s soccer team posted a 3.71 cumulative GPA – the highest among the eight women’s teams at CMU.
On the men’s side, the cross country team finished first at CMU with a 3.15 cumulative GPA.
Athletes from each of the 14 athletic programs said academics are the number-one priority stressed by their respective coaching staff.
“These athletes are here because they want an education. They want a future; they want a job,” Reighard said. “I think all Division I coaches really understand the emphasis of what a student-athlete is really here for.”
Field hockey head coach Cristy Freese led the field hockey team to the top of the charts in 2012, posting the top team GPA among Division I programs with 3.61 cumulative.
On an individual level, 38 athletes earned Academic All-Conference honors, 10 earned Academic All-District honors and three earned Academic All-American honors.
Assistant Director of Athletics Derek van der Merwe said CMU’s student-athletes aren’t taking blow-off majors. Instead, athletes are represented in 67 different majors, most popularly business and health professions majors.
“We’re not trying to marshal the students into one or two areas; we want them to discover where their strengths are, and I think that’s an asset post-grad as well,” van der Merwe said.
As a whole, CMU athletes have finished with a cumulative GPA above 3.0 for 14-straight years, as of 2010-11.
Fifty-one percent of CMU athletes carried at least a 3.0 GPA in 2010-11. Twenty-seven percent held at least a 3.5, and six athletes held a 4.0.
Junior two-sport athlete and Livonia native Kyle Smith is one of six student-athletes with a perfect 4.0. He is majoring in engineering.
Having experience as a member of both the football and track and field team, Smith said both coaches were strong motivators, and the varying academic results for the programs are circumstantial.
“At CMU, there’s a strong motivation across sports, and I don’t think there’s a lack of motivation or support from coaches,” Smith said. “Sometimes, football takes up a little more of your time, but then again, the coaching staff gives you all the resources you need. I just try to focus on prioritizing, and everything else falls into place from there.”
The next story in this series will look specifically at graduation rates and GPAs of the football and men’s basketball teams.
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