Saluki athletes in class of their own

College sports program success is typically judged by conference play, NCAA tournament appearances and national championship wins.

For most student-athletes, however, classroom success is just as important as their performance in their respective sport.

Student athletes are honored Feb. 5 during the men’s basketball game against Wichita State at SIU Arena. More than 300 athletes who earned at least a 3.0 grade point average were recognized during half time at the game. Of those, 45 held a 4.0 GPA. Sarah Gardner  | Daily Egyptian

Student athletes are honored Feb. 5 during the men’s basketball game against Wichita State at SIU Arena. More than 300 athletes who earned at least a 3.0 grade point average were recognized during half time at the game. Of those, 45 held a 4.0 GPA.
Sarah Gardner | Daily Egyptian

The Saluki athletic program finished the fall 2012 semester with a combined 3.06 grade point average. Sixty-two percent of SIU student-athletes recorded a 3.0 or better semester GPA, and 45 student-athletes recorded a perfect 4.0. Sixty percent of the athletes finished the semester with a 3.0 cumulative GPA or better.

Athletic Director Mario Moccia said he is pleased with how well the university’s athletes perform in the classroom, and he credits each program’s coaching staff for pushing their players to succeed.

“To have a term GPA of 3.06 is pretty much a high watermark for us,” Moccia said. “That just tells me we have coaches who are stressing the importance of going to class and going to study table.”

SIU’s Athletics posted a 3.03 GPA for spring 2012. Moccia said SIU has always faired well when it comes to student-athletes and their academic performances.

“We have always done very well here, certainly if you benchmark our performance against the non student-athlete,” Moccia said.

He said one reason the athletic program continues to see academic success from its athletes is because of the Troutt-Wittmann Center, where they study.

The Troutt-Wittmann Center, which was in 2005, features a fitness center nearly three times larger than the previous facility available to Saluki athletes. More importantly, it includes a mix of quiet areas where athletes can receive tutor help along with Internet and several educational resources from books to study guides and computer labs.

Liz Smith, an academic assistant for the athletic program, said the center can get very busy in the evening. She said she will sometimes see 20 to 30 athletes at a time studying or doing homework.

Smith said the center is convenient for athletes because it is close to the athletic center, a place where athletes spend a chunk of their time.

“It is very close to everything else they need throughout the day,” she said. “Whether it be talking to coaches, or to get treatment from the trainer, or practice, it’s all right here.”

Sophomore Lauren Cheadle, a sprinter on the track and field team, said she spends six hours a week in the center. She said she has to dedicate a certain amount of time to the center according to her coaches, but she finds herself there most times because of its available resources.

“There’s free printing for athletes, and the free tutoring helps a lot,” she said. “You can get it for any class, so that’s a big plus I think when it comes to studying here.”

The volleyball program led the athletic department in fall 2012 with a 3.7 term GPA, followed by softball with a 3.5. Moccia said the fall semester was the first time volleyball has led the department mainly because softball’s academics finished second and fourth out of the country’s 286 teams for the past two years.

“We joke about softball being upset with volleyball because they took their top spot,” he said.

Softball coach Kerri Blaylock said the team prides itself on its grades because the team members’ respective degrees will be what most of them will fall back on.

“There is a pro softball league, but it is not very established,” she said. “For them, life after softball is going into the working world and what they want to do with their lives.”

However, Blaylock said opponents on the field aren’t the players’ only competition. They are also competing with each other.

“It brings out their competitive side,” she said. “They want to compete with their teammates, and they want to beat them.”

In total, 13 of SIU’s 18 athletic teams recorded a 3.0 or better term GPA.

Moccia said the team he is most proud of didn’t record a 3.0, but it recorded the highest semester GPA for the program since the athletic department began tracking GPAs by team in the early 1990s.

“The team I’m most proud of by far is the men’s basketball team,” Moccia said.

The men’s basketball team recorded a 2.947 GPA.

“Our academic issues were very well reported and very high-profile,” he said. “For those guys to step up and record a 2.947 GPA is historic.”

The men’s basketball team narrowly avoided NCAA penalties last year when they posted the lowest Academic Progress Rate score out of any Saluki athletic team. APR represents each program’s eligibility and retention rate for its students-athletes. SIU’s men’s basketball team had an APR of 908, which was 42 points below the nation-wide average.

Coach Barry Hinson said he thinks a couple of reasons he was hired to coach the basketball team was his academic track record and his emphasis on the importance of each student-athlete’s daily routine.

“My grandmother used to say ‘The proof’s in the pudding,’ and we have proved that with hard work we were able to do those things the right way and certainly it has paid off,” he said.

Hinson said he stresses consistency to his team, which is something the team failed to have in the past.

“We start every day off the same,” he said. “As a team we meet every morning for breakfast. We know they have a good meal in their stomach, and we know they are going to class. Fifteen years from now, I could care less whether they could hit a jump shot from 15 feet or not, but what I do care about is (whether) they have a degree that’s going to last them the rest of their lives.”

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