Kent State graduation rates among best in MAC

Doug Gulasy

Athletic department pleased with NCAA academic report

Wake up at 5:30 in the morning to lift weights. Practice for two to three hours in the afternoon as your team prepares for a weekend game. Watch film and go over a game plan with coaches. Leave Friday morning for the game, and return Saturday night after it ends.

Sound appealing?

It’s the life for many Kent State athletes, and in between, they have to find a way to keep their eligibility by doing well in the classroom.

That busy schedule is also why the Kent State athletic department finds the Kent State athlete graduation success rates released last week by the NCAA so impressive.

“Every athlete, every team, every day really has to put the pedal to the metal to get it done,” said Cathy O’Donnell, executive associate athletic director for Academic and Student Services. “They get discouraged, they get homesick, they have the flu, they’re injured – every student-athlete has a story to tell, and the academic story, fortunately, is positive for most of them.”

In the numbers released last week, Kent State’s overall athletic graduation success rate was 77 percent, compared to the 51 percent graduation rate of the entire university.

In the Mid-American Conference, Kent State’s overall graduation rate ranked eighth, tied with Ball State University, while the football team’s graduation rate of 78 percent ranked third.

“That’s why we’re here – we’re part of the educational system at Kent State,” said Laing Kennedy, Kent State director of athletics. “When we think we’re in the entertainment business, we’re headed down the wrong road. (The graduation rate) validates that we’re in the education business.”

Kent State

athletic team graduation success rates: 1998-2001

Women’s basketball: 100 percent

Softball: 95 percent

Volleyball: 92 percent

Gymnastics: 90 percent

Men’s golf: 89 percent

Women’s golf: 86 percent

Soccer: 83 percent

Field hockey: 82 percent

Football: 78 percent

Men’s track/cross country: 76 percent

Women’s track/cross country: 73 percent

Wrestling: 69 percent

Men’s basketball: 56 percent

Baseball: 50 percent

The graduation success rate took into account athletes who came to the university at any point between the years 1998 and 2001. It measures whether the athletes then graduated within a span of five years. Athletes who transferred out of the university with their eligibility intact did not count against the numbers.

Among the 14 teams at Kent State, 11 had a graduation success rate of 70 percent or higher. No team had a higher rate than the women’s basketball team, which graduated 100 percent of its players in the span.

“You’re not going to play basketball at Kent State on our women’s team unless you are very committed to being a student,” Kennedy said. “That’s part of coach (Bob) Lindsay’s philosophy.”

In the 2007-2008 academic and athletic year, 27 players were named to Academic All-MAC teams. Softball player Jessica Toocheck and track and field athlete Jaroslaw Zakrzewski were named academic All-Americans by ESPN the Magazine, with Toocheck being named to the first team and Zakrzewksi named to the third team in their respective sports.

Eight Kent State teams recorded a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better, while 98 athletes posted GPAs of 3.75 or higher and 37 earned a 4.0. Overall, the athletic department cumulative GPA was 2.97.

The athletic department employs three academic counselors who are each assigned to several teams. The counselors’ goal is to supplement what the university does in terms of advising, as well as to support the athletes, said Kristin Reed, assistant athletic director for academic counseling. Academic and Student Services also runs an evening study table program at the M.A.C. Center.

Reed, who played soccer at Kent State from 1998 to 2001, said a majority of players stay committed to their studies, even when their team is on the road.

“They’re (studying) on the bus. They’re doing it in the hotel. They’re doing it before games and after games because they have classes on Monday morning just like everybody else,” she said. “They’ve got to really manage their time. That’s one of the first lessons I think that they learn and have to learn.”

Overall, O’Donnell said the graduation rates are something to be proud of because of the level of commitment athletes have to show to their sports and their studies.

“Our sports are all pretty much 365 days a year now,” O’Donnell said. “There are no off-seasons anymore. It’s not like (they can say), ‘Well, season’s over.’ They might get a couple weeks and head right into the conditioning phase. I think all the athletes really deserve a pat on the back.”

Contact assistant sports editor Douglas Gulasy at [email protected].