Kentucky Basketball: Basketball GPA Circles the Drain

Never let it be said that we at A Sea of Blue talk only about the fluff and good news, and refuse to take on the tough issues that don't reflect well on our favorite college team, or refuse to challenge our school to improve itself when it underachieves in something other than sports.

We heard about John Wall's stellar efforts in the first semester of this year, and all of us cheered that success.  But today, news comes that some of Wall's peers failed to make the grade, and the overall GPA of Kentucky's basketball team was the worst among the nine SEC schools providing data on the fall semester of 2009

This cannot make any UK fan happy, and I am absolutely not pleased.  I have opined that "one and done" is as good a route to go as any, and that sports at many NCAA institutions runs in opposition to their stated mission of academic achievement.  I stand by those comments, but I think we have to fairly examine the results of the fall semester.

According to this article by Jerry Tipton, there was good and bad to report for the men's basketball fall semester grades, but the bad, as they say, outweighed the good.  The result:  a cumulative 2.025 GPA.  There are related articles on the matter here and here.

More after the jump.

Here are the highlights and lowlights:

  • The high GPA on the team was 3.59 (low A-, by my scale)
  • The low GPA was 1.667 (low C-, by my scale)
  • Four players had GPA's below 2.0  A 1.8 (roughly C-) is required after your freshman year to remain eligible, so we can conclude that two freshmen were among the poor GPA's.
  • The next lowest in the 9 SEC schools tested was 2.15 at LSU.  Louisville had a 3.0, Kansas 2.95, Florida 2.96.

While it is true that UK men's basketball has had worse years and better years, because of the high profile of the UK 2009 recruiting class and the number of players who have abandoned ship early for the NBA, this news is going to draw a ton of hoots and derision from Kentucky's rivals, and a lot of tut-tutting from academics.  It is irrelevant even if there happen to be many other programs with similar problems, this is something that Coach Cal, Mitch Barnhart, and Lee Todd need to address.

I am less concerned about graduation rates than day-to-day academic performance.  I think we all understand that, like it or not, the "one and done" rule is here until the NBA decides to change it.  But universities can and should demand a certain level of academic performance from all their players, regardless of their intentions to graduate.  I am of the opinion that the coaching staff did not do a good job of educating the men's basketball team on the importance of classroom competence.

I do understand that it is Calipari's job to win basketball games, and I expect to hear a few arguments of "as long as his players are eligible, what's the big deal?"  Speaking only for myself, the big deal is that this plays right into the argument that players are using UK as a temporary waypoint on the way to the NBA, and that academics are not a serious concern of either the University or the players at Kentucky.  Based on the fall 2009 semester, you'd have to say that what we have here is evidence of the truth of that argument.

I know that some players are using UK as a temporary stopover to the NBA, and I have explained why I think that is okay.  Young men have a right to chase their dreams, but not at the expense of at least a nodding acquaintance with their textbooks while they are ostensibly a student.  UK is an academic institution. after all, and that would seem to apply to the young men on a basketball scholarship as well as to the average guy or gal from Simpsonville or Pikeville who pays tuition, room and board.

In order for UK to be able to credibly allow multiple players to go on to the NBA every year, they are going to at least have to require these players to perform competently in the classroom.  They don't have to have a 3.0+, but I would argue that a 2.3 cumulative team average is the minimum acceptable, and anything less is unacceptable in varying degrees.  These young men get all the help they need to succeed in class -- far more than the average college student -- and yet the best they can do is a 2.025?

Here's what I suggest:

  • Do away with the requirement that a 1.8 for eligibility applies only after their freshman year.  It should apply each semester they are at UK, on an ongoing basis.
  • Institute temporary suspensions for players who are in jeopardy of falling below this standard so they can get their grades back up before they do.  Academics should be monitored constantly, not just semester-to-semester.  If that was being done this year, there is little evidence of it.
  • Take the academic mission of the school seriously, and apply it as if every player coming to Kentucky were coming for four years.
  • Coach Cal's contract has academic incentives for a high team GPA.  It should also include financial penalties of equal magnitude for team GPA underperformance.

I understand and applaud the fact that that Coach Cal is looking out for his players' future, but he also has to look out for the reputation of the University of Kentucky.  This kind of report, combined with multiple "one and dones," is very bad for the reputation of UK as well as that of Coach Cal, who has often had his players' academics thrown in his face as a critique of his performance as a college  basketball coach.  When he came here, he assured Mitch Barnhart and Lee Todd of his commitment to academic performance, but that is belied by these results.

Also, I am less than pleased with this:

Through a spokesman, Calipari and UK Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart declined to be interviewed for this story, citing "privacy concerns."

Gentlemen, my response to that is that it is your responsibility to stand up and take the heat for this.  You needn't disclose private information in order to answer questions about the overall academic performance of your team, and how you intend to improve it.  It is, after all, a matter of public record, at least in the aggregate and without tying specific players to specific grades.

In college basketball, as in life, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  It's time for some grease on the academic performance of men's basketball.

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