Sports

UConn’s Herbst: Men’s Hoops Showing ‘Massive’ Academic Improvement

(credit: Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

(credit: Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – UConn president Susan Herbst says the Huskies have turned the corner when it comes to the academic performance of its men’s basketball team.

Even better, UConn also has a plan in place to ensure better results in the future.

Herbst told The Associated Press that Tuesday’s report showing a poor graduation rate for the national champion men’s basketball program did not come as a surprise.

The report puts the program’s graduation success rate at 25 percent, well below the 68 percent single-year rate for all of the nation’s men’s basketball teams, and the 66 percent four-year rate for those teams. It is among the lowest in Division I.

The school began working on an academic improvement plan for the program last spring after the team scored a dismal 893 on the NCAA’s annual Academic Progress Rate, which measures the academic performance of student athletes.

UConn lost two scholarships as a result of the score, which was well below the NCAA minimum score of 925.

“This takes constant vigilance,” Herbst said. “In a program like ours, a highly competitive program, students are going to have a lot of options. They have a lot of pressure on them and it’s up to the university to support them.”

Herbst said she has made improving the academic performance of the program a top priority after taking the job in June and has put in place an advisory committee of top faculty to ensure improvement.

The basketball improvement plan calls for the school to: ensure that athletes who leave early are academically eligible when they depart; require nine credit hours of summer school for returning players to ensure they are progressing toward graduation; provide more academic support services to incoming freshmen in the summer before they enroll and that fall; cut down on the number of transfers; and encourage players who leave early for a professional career to come back and finish their degrees.

“Like any adults who have gone to college long ago and come back, they have families, they have careers, it’s not that easy to come back and finish,” Herbst said. “But we’re working on that. We want everyone who has gone to UConn, athlete or not, to eventually come back and complete. It’s getting a lot easier now and it’s a high priority of mine to work it through distance learning. So through coming to campus and distance learning I think we can help people come back and finish their degrees.”

Former UConn stars Ben Gordon, Ray Allen and Kemba Walker are all enrolled in classes this semester during the NBA lockout. Scott Burrell and Donyell Marshall both completed their degrees in the summer of 2010.

The graduation rate is based on data for students who entered school between 2001-2004. Under NCAA guidelines they have six years to graduate.

Improving graduation rates and the APR could be a key in Connecticut’s ability to win an invite into a conference such as the Atlantic Coast Conference, which features top-flight academic institutions such as Duke, Virginia and North Carolina. The school has made no secret of its desire to join the ACC.

Messages seeking comment also were left for UConn coach Jim Calhoun and interim Athletic Director Paul Pendergast, but a spokesman said Herbst would speak for the university.

She said because of the improvements being made, the team’s APR this year will be well above any NCAA threshold that would trigger sanctions. A UConn official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the number isn’t official yet, said the score would be approximately 975.

“It really is terrific and shows a massive improvement,” Herbst said. “There is no question that it needed work.”

Herbst also said she supports a proposal that would prevent teams with a low APR from participating in the NCAA tournament. But she also said she’s confident that such a rule won’t be implemented until schools such as Connecticut have a chance to show they have made improvements.

“We just need time to prepare, and I think that’s true for a lot of institutions,” she said. “We need to get the supports in place so they can meet any new standard. I have no doubt that we’ll have that chance.”

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)