SJSU in the News: The San Jose Mercury News Editorial Board Applauds Spartan Football’s “Impressive” Academic Progress

Mercury News editorial/slideshow: San Jose State’s football program wins high marks

View a related slideshow, “San Jose State Football Through the Years.”
View a related news story, “How Classroom Success Saved San Jose State Football.”

Originally published by the San Jose Mercury News August 17, 2011.

Six years ago San Jose State’s football program was abysmally poor in academic performance. The university should be red-faced, we said at the time, that only 36 percent of its players earned a degree.

But since then, the Spartans’ academic achievement has undergone a dramatic transformation, as the Mercury News’ Jon Wilner reported this week. Progress is so impressive that college football’s governing body, the NCAA, asked the university to lead a special convention session on how to improve football players’ academic scores.

The NCAA has also rewarded San Jose State by removing all scholarship restrictions. For the first time in school history, San Jose State will have a full complement of 85 scholarship players when it begins its season in two weeks. It’s a terrific milestone.

The turnaround began in fall 2004 while the university, ironically enough, was enduring a 43-3 drubbing at the hands of Stanford University. A major factor in the loss was that San Jose State had six of its players declared academically ineligible immediately before the game. It was the fourth straight year that had happened, Wilner noted.

The legendary Bill Walsh, who played end for San Jose State in the 1950s, was a television analyst for the game. He publicly ripped his alma mater for the team’s lack of standards.

The university named Don Kassing as interim president shortly after that, and he brought Walsh in as a consultant to help turn around the program. The result should rank as one of Kassing’s and Walsh’s most gratifying collegiate legacies.

They hired Tom Bowen as athletic director and Dick Tomey as head coach, a new management team that put a major emphasis on improving the Spartans’ academic record.

It was not easy. The NCAA annually measures every university’s performance, giving it a score based on players’ progress on achieving a degree. The Spartans had fallen more than 50 points below the NCAA’s baseline rate before Kassing’s team took over.

Kassing found the money for additional academic support staff, and Bowen and Tomey installed organized study halls for players. Attending class became mandatory for players. What a concept. The numbers steadily improved, and during the past two years, San Jose State has scored well over the NCAA’s baseline rate, including more than 40 points above the basic standard in 2009.

Many of the college football programs across the nation give lip service to the mission of having students perform as well in the classroom as they do on the football field. Not so for today’s San Jose State.

Unfortunately, while academic progress has shot up, success on the field hasn’t kept pace. But a lack of scholarship players, plus one of the more challenging schedules in school history, played a major role in the Spartans’ woes of the 2010 season.

The schedule doesn’t get a lot easier for San Jose State this year. But here’s wishing today’s coach, Mike MacIntyre, and his academically rejuvenated Spartans the success they richly deserve when they open at Stanford on Sept. 3.

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