Fine Progress Off the Field

A while ago on the Pitt Blather I wrote a three-day series detailing behind the scenes of the college football recruiting game and how it pertained to Pitt football.  It is pretty eye-opening when you realize just how much work goes into a process where the results are mostly driven by unseen forces.

Which means however you parse the complex makeup of a HS player at that point in his young life and then try to project what he’ll be like in college,  the main determining factor lies in what is between his ears.

Something that every college football fan will agree with is the premise the talent and character are the two most important aspects of a recruit’s ability to segue from HS to college ball and succeed in moving forward in his college days… and not just on the field.

Talent, taken in this sense, is pretty much physical. You can lump skills in with that also as that also rests in the body of the recruit.  Character is generated from between his ears and in his heart and is perhaps the defining need in the long run.  We want our players to have a lot of both character and talent of course, but one without the other never works out in the long run.

We fans can argue forever about that need in reference to whether or not a coaching staff can build a roster which consistently wins football games.  There are differing opinions about what makes good college football players and in turn good football programs.

Personally, I’m more concerned about what makes a good college student/athlete.

Believe me that phrase is not outdated, nor a myth, even in today’s big business world of college ball.  At least it sure isn’t now at the University of Pittsburgh and, if you care to look, hundreds of other colleges both large and small.

A key issue to understand is the term used is “student/athlete… not “scholar/athlete” and there is a big difference between the two.

Pitt’s mandate to the football coaching staff is that they recruit student/athletes and get them attending, and completing, classes with enough credits so as to graduate in four years… in other words keep him a Pitt student as well as a Pitt athlete  The player himself is who determines whether he’ll be a scholar or not.

What is great about the Pitt football program today, encompassing the 10 years from 2005 until 2015 (the years of the latest NCAA findings shown later) and I’ll say  in particular over the last five years, are all the positive changes that are happening within it.

We fans can point to the most obvious and the most recent right off the bat – we have a new HC in Pat Narduzzi who has infused the program with energy and excitement… and he gave us a winning record of 8-5 in his first season at the helm. Yeah us… good times!

Along with Narduzzi we have two new principals on the administrative side of things, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and Athletic Director Scott Barnes, both whom have taken a new approach to Pitt athletics, football in particular, and have solid and long range plans in place.  With the new ACC monies coming in to the coffers; about $27,000,000 for the year 2015 alone, we now have the money to make those good changes keep happening.

All in all we are in good shape. But all that is pretty much on the surface of the program and is what we fans and the media can easily see, read about and get a handle on. But what excites me the most are the issues behind the curtain that make me feel that Pitt has corrected its course and is on the right track.

I feel very proud of Pitt’s student/athletes and I firmly believe that what happens by them, for them and to them is paramount in the athletic department’s missions.

When reviewing the last decade – for that period is what has transpired in recent times with the program – we see advancements on many fronts.  The best thing though is that we do not see any slippage or negative trends which is pretty amazing given the fluid nature of college athletics.

I’ll be more clear about that. The recruiting oversight and policies put in place by the Pitt administration after the 2010 season has really paid dividends.  As with anything else the most significant changes didn’t happen right away but instead as the roster turned over. That happened with some not so subtle hints and extra pushes from the coaching staff and athletic administration in a lot of cases.

Again, we can argue about that process until the cows come home but the bald fact is that we had have many less disciplinary problems and academic failures in the last five years than we had the five years before that.

All that said, there might have been a trade off there as we started to have winning seasons in 2008, 09 and ’10.  I say ‘might have’ because I think we’ll see better years than those in the very near future without all the Sturm und Drang we had associated with the program back then.

We see now that Pitt doesn’t have to lessen standards to attract good players to the program.  You also shouldn’t have to raise standards so high that you have nothing but scholars and choirboys on the roster.

Pitt went through that in 1938 when Jock Sutherland quit sutherland_owl1938pg246as HC due to Chancellor Bowman’s strict and stringent academic standards he insisted for football players… which in effect ended our run of eight national championships and our true “Glory Years”.

There is a medium to it and a good program makes sure that medium isn’t exact but leans over to the positive side.  We see real progress in that at Pitt from the years 2004-5 to 2014-15.

(As you read the rest of the article pay attention to how things changed under the different HCs we have had as listed in the APR/GSR chart I posted.)

The NCAA keeps track of a measurable called the “Academic Progress Rate (APR)” and holds institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.

Wow, That’s a mouthful.  In other words they keep track of who isn’t flunking out while on athletic scholarship.

apr calc

While the APR is intended as an incentive-based approach, it does come with a progression of penalties for teams that under-perform academically over time.

The NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate (GSR)  and the Federal Govt’s Federal Graduation Rate (FGR) differ in that the  GSR takes into account players who were recruited by that college but who transfer schools get their degrees elsewhere.  It is, in my mind, better take on success in recruitment.


Here we have listed Pitt’s football program’s Academic Progress Rate (APR), and the Graduation Rate (GSR).

Year Graduated



Played For Recruited By
’04 – ‘05 943  (940 avg) 48  (66 avg) WH WH
’05 – ‘06 948 54 DW WH/DW
’06 – ‘07 945 63 DW WH/DW
’07 – ‘08 944 67 DW WH/DW
’08 – ‘09 950 68 DW WH/DW
’09 – ‘10 949  (950? avg) 69 (71 avg) DW DW
’10 – ‘11 955 65 DW DW
’11 – 12  962 70 TG DW/TG
’12– ‘13 961 68 PC DW/TG/PC
’13 – ‘14 963 67 PC DW/TG/PC
’14 – ‘15 970  (959 avg)
75   (75 avg) PC TG/PC

What is so nice to see with the APR is that Pitt opened the positive margin between the average APR and it’s own APR from 3 points to 11 points – no small measure of success.

But where the benefit Pitt has had in academics really jumps is the five year spans between the 2004-5 ( -18 pts) graduates to 2009-10 (-2 pts)  and then to 2014-15 (even).

Walt Harris was, for lack of better wording, very poor at graduating the players he recruited… and having his recruits graduate after he left Pitt..   He came to Pitt in 1997 and the recruits he had from 2000-2004 (first set of years monitored)  were consistently pretty far below the FBS graduation rates.

Dave Wannstedt came in 2005 and his recruiting classes began closing that graduation gap from (-) 18 points to a much better (-)2 in 2010… then after he left his players continued to help his predecessors even out the GSR to the national average last year.

Say what we will about the disciplinary problems we had in DW’s latter years – his kids were going to class and graduating at a better clip than players before he was hired and that’s a big, and good, deal for all involved.  Wannstedt did a good job with that.

Now we are moving forward in fine shape. I have a feeling that will continue to progress and get even better as the years go on.  HC Pat Narduzzi’s roster players have had very few problems off the field, either academically or disciplinary, so far.

While it is too early to tell how his recruits will do as four year students,  I get the distinct impression that he’s a stern taskmaster in all areas of the player’s Pitt experience.  As evidenced by the discipline he has awarded so far, albeit a small sample, he’s going to keep our players on the right track as they attend and graduate from Pitt as true student/athletes.

Note: I just ran across this old Pitt Blather article written in 2003 by a man named “Lee” and it was so good I thought I’d share it with you:  Al Qaeda Strikes Penn State



15 thoughts on “Fine Progress Off the Field

  1. Great to see Pitt football doing much better academically and a higher percentage graduating. All of our other sports including basketball usually do very well and I am very proud of all of our kids. I think the ACC has helped tremendously with our recruiting, especially with academics. It’s the perfect conference for Pitt. Great so see Nate Peterman getting an MBA degree at night. Back in May, I went to my daughter’s Pitt MBA graduation ceremony as she graduated from the night program. My son is also working and is in the MBA night program too. Amazing both kids following the old man. Looking forward to football. Planning 2 road trips – NC & Virginia. I love ACC road trips. Screw the Big 10 and its screwball campuses in the cold no wheresville. Went to Virginia 2 years ago – now one of my favorite trips and campuses. Had a blast Friday night – went to a free Randy Bachman concert at South Park. Some great songs – he of the Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive. Now, I have to get back to “Taking Care of Business” (great closing song).


  2. Considering the small percentage of D1 football players that end up signing multimillion dollar contracts to play in the NFL at the conclusion of their college careers it seems blatantly obvious that the “student” aspect of the athletic scholarship process is where the true cheddar is in the long run.

    Sure it’s great to have the ambition to play in the NFL when you’re busting your hump in HS to excel athletically in order to gain some noteriety and garnish some offers from D1 schools to obtain that scholarship in the 1st place. But dreams need backup plans simply because making that dream a reality is fleeting even for those few who get there after college. NFL careers can be brief, injuries, getting cut, etc. is the norm. So come 30 or so, even the average NFL athlete needs to figure out what he is going to do after his time in NFL is over.

    So it sounds foolish to me when I hear the the argument to pay college athletes for playing is because, “they’re just there as farm team athletes in training” waiting for their eventual NFL Draft selection to transpire. Just doesn’t turn out that way for the great majority of these D1 guys and almost never occurs with the scores of athletes who are competing blow the D1 level. So good advice is get that GD higher education degree, best backup plan there is.

    This is especially relevant when considering the fact that many athletes of color would otherwise not have the opportunity to acquire that higher education degree due to financial constraints for those families in lower socioeconomic situations.

    Therefore I’m very impressed to hear of Pitt’s efforts to support that aspect of the student athlete’s college experience. Getting that education is the ultimate goal. We should never lose sight of that dream because that one is obtainable for every single kid who gets a scholarship, if he goes after it with the same commitment as he does chasing that NFL dream.


  3. Dr Tom – there were a few things I left out of the article as it was getting pretty long. One is that is that in all the conversations I have had with player’s parent/grandparents (25+) I’d say that 75% of them were very realistic about their kid’s chances to make (or more likely not) it in the NFL.

    The kids themselves – that is a different story as they have their dreams of Sunday glory. But the smart, realistic ones know just what you said – that school and a degree is the real benefit of that scholarship.

    I don’t have any problem with kids who stop playing ball and drop out – every school has them and that has happened at Pitt – sometimes things just aren’t fun or as valuable as they thought when they started the college journey.

    I do wish that colleges with football programs would offer two year Associates Degrees ( to all students actually) but that will probably never happen – the last thing a school wants to do is invest all the $$$ on a football player only to have him leave with a Associates Degree before the program is done with him.

    But the bottom line with the academic student/athlete issues is this; parents trust the university to uphold their end of the bargain when that player signs their LOI. That isn’t confined to the football field but has to have as much energy put into ensuring the player does well off the field also.


  4. Walt Harris was an Ogre when it came to his players’ academics. His graduation rate was poor because his recruits left school because they didn’t belong on the D-1 level. His team one year had one of the highest overall G.P.A.s and was tied with Notre Dame.

    The reality is most D-1 schools work hard to graduate its players, even most football factory programs. Pitt isn’t separating itself in terms of what it’s doing for the kids. These kids at Texas are running scared to their classes due to coach Strong’s wrath.


  5. If your school is power 5, the football players are athlete students, sorry. That is the reality of college sport. I can list all the things that are done to manipulate a corrupt system, manipulate surveys, manipulate progress, entertain athletes parents and or guardians, but it is sickening. The Power 5 plays the game. The administrators and coaches are all taught what to say when in reality it is not much different then before compliance departments started bleeding campuses of millions each year..

    The NCAA has no power as an organization. See Miami University if you want to learn more about their ineptness. College Football needs a commissioner that didn’t play the game. The corruption lives on. The class clustering lives on. The administrators swear that it doesn’t, but it does. It is just manipulated. The vehicles, the parking tickets, the extra benefits, are all alive and well. Privilege is common place. Let’s get our heads out of the sand and call it what it is.

    I know, the dairy college, Syracuse, North Carolina, Ohio St, Miami and the list goes on and on, had no issues. Look, it is happening everywhere. Now is the time to cheat because you will get away with it, easily!


  6. Guys – there is no doubt that when Pitt reaches out to these kids there are pursuing them as athletes first and studenst second. But before I write an article like this I reach out to many people for some background and I am surprised that most college fans think the vast majority of players don’t even go to classes or that they automatically get passing grades.

    I mean the fans actually think these kids never hardly set foot in a class. Then I talk to guys I know who played college ball (not all from Pitt either) who tell me pretty much the opposite – that their schools were strict on the players as far as academic attendance and offering academic help went.

    Huff- I have no doubt all that you say is true. I wonder how true it is at Pitt though… and I’m not saying that doesn’t happen here either – I really don’t know the intricacies of that issue as it pertains to individual students. But as I said above I know some players who did well at Pitt and had all the help they needed.

    But I truly believe it goes in waves depending who the HC is, and what type of standards and pressure the university administration itself puts on to make the kids go to class, etc...

    However, the thrust of the article is the progress Pitt has made it fixing this problem – that being from the horrid grad rates of the early 2000s to the matching average of today.

    I hoped I made clear by inference that it all depends on what sort of student/athlete the HC and the University admin pursue in their recruiting efforts. There is no doubt in my mind that after 2010 the Pitt administration seriously tightened up the recruit vetting process to avoid what we went through in the years leading up to 2010. that showed up later and we are seeing the benefits of that now.

    I like to give credit where it is due and make readers aware of something they might not have know or thought of – case in point I am harsh on Wannstedt’s time at Pitt but was impressed with how he and his staff graduated their players.

    Hell, just to see the circumstances some of these recruits lived through in their young lives and then watch them flourish and mature as student/athletes at Pitt – then get that degree, in many cases the first one to do so in generations (or ever in some families) is great. That is what I love about college sports. It truly isn’t just about the $$$ as the professional sports are.

    …and those players don’t have to be engineers, dentists, etc… some will be and as in all walks of life some will excel and some will just get by and some will fail. But I personally am not going to judge a kid harshly because he may have won an ‘easier’ degree award than one who is majoring in pre-Med.

    No, I’ll congratulate them both for a job well done.


  7. Mike Young had 50 last night and Shelden Jeter had 41 (at least on of them did) while Artis went 0 for 1 … so in other words, it’s the summer league



  8. Just read this tweet in the PG twitter section — maybe one of you nerd types can translate

    John Ourand @Ourand_SBJ
    Source: ESPN to launch a digital-only, “ACC Network Plus” in Aug 2016 and a linear “ACC Network” in Aug 2019


  9. @ Huff, the point that I am speaking to is the priority that Pitt is placing on “playing the game” (as you describe it) in addressing academics for student athletes. Those more involved in the program could give a more valid opinion on the commitment that the University is making to it’s student athletes to facilitate their academic success, but IMO, I find it a true benefit to be promoted to recruits (& their families) that they will be given the support necessary to obtain that diploma if that is their ambition. It’s there for the taking. That is a resource that is invaluable when you are discussing an “athletic student” from a HS that mayverybe has not prepared them for college level study and very well might need such close oversite and academic tutoring support to be successful in obtaining that degree.


  10. Doc and Reed, I am supportive of your positions and understand that Pitt is working toward educational goals. The rhetoric for all higher education institutions is that the kids are student/athletes. The reality is that the AD’s, Coaches and Players know it as athlete students and play the game with the media and most everyone they come into contact with throughout their days.

    Class clustering still occurs, but is manipulated very well by athletic administrators. On line courses are running rampant and the institutions have no way of knowing who is doing the work or taking the actual course. Fraud is huge. That’s the reality. There is pressure on academic researchers and as a result, they are manipulating results to keep their funding source active.

    Sorry, higher academe is under fire nationally so I do not believe much of what I hear because it conflicts with what I see every day. So I get what they are sayin, I am just not buying. We need to win and put athletes in the league. Problem solved.


  11. LA Panther

    Regarding the statement:

    “Talent, taken in this sense, is pretty much physical. You can lump skills in with that also as that also rests in the body of the recruit. Character is generated from between his ears and in his heart and is perhaps the defining need in the long run. We want our players to have a lot of both character and talent of course, but one without the other never works out in the long run.”

    This reminds me of Goethe’s statement: “Talent develops in quiet places, character in the full current of human life.” It’s not until the pads go on that we’ll get an idea of the character we have. Talent may be the race car, but character is the driver. In Conner’s situation, talent may have suffered as he had to swim against some pretty swift currents of character building. I have a daughter his age who recently completed a similar series of cancer treatments. The treatments took a big toll on her body, as well as on her mental sharpness (chemo brain). I’m not sure she is cancer free as conn is (I’m not sure “cancer free” is even a real thing, but she has “no detectable cancer,” which is better than most of us POVars, who haven’t been properly examined, lately.

    As Reed notes in later blogs, seeing James the football player exhibit a mature drive to serve others off the field and a “spit in the face of death” character on the field, he’ll go down in my book of hers, even if his production falls way off.


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