Study Shows Relation Between Academic And Athletic Success

June 27, 2007

IOWA CITY – What if big time college football programs had more success on the field when their players did better in school? Football players would study as hard for a big exam as they now train for a big game. That is what a University of Iowa sociologist and a colleague predict could happen as players use newly available online information to join programs that give them the best opportunity for a high-quality college degree, as well as a shot at football stardom.

Michael Lovaglia, professor of sociology in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Professor Jeffrey Lucas of the University of Maryland have designed the Student Athlete Performance Rate (SAPR) Web site that allows recruits to compare programs based on a combination of academic progress and athletic success.

The two professors got the idea for the site,, when the NCAA released its first Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores for college sports programs. They hope to show that football success doesn’t have to come at the expense of classroom achievement and that colleges will use the information they’ve compiled to recruit athletes.

“Jeff told me about the rankings and thought they might be a good tool to recruit players to the Iowa program,” Lovaglia said. “I thought that the APR gave recruits only the academic half of the information they needed to compare programs. They also needed a standard way to compare the athletic success of different teams. So we developed a way to measure teams’ athletic success rate (ASR). Then we combined the two measures to make the SAPR.”

Three years ago when Lucas and Lovaglia first combined the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) with several indicators they call the Athletic Success Rate (ASR) they made a surprising discovery. Programs with good academic progress scores were just as likely to have good athletic success scores as were teams with poor academic progress. This year, programs with good academic progress performed even better.

“Programs with better academic progress have significantly higher athletic success,” Lucas said, but he cautioned that more years of data are needed to confirm the finding as a trend rather than a blip or statistical accident.

The Iowa football program currently ranks number 12 on the SAPR in a tie with Oklahoma. The top five SAPR football programs are Auburn, Georgia, Miami of Florida, Florida State and Michigan.

“Some players, coaches and whole teams have the attitude that academic progress detracts from team success, but we showed it’s a myth that if a person wants to be a star player they have to neglect their studies,” Lovaglia said. “As coaches start to use their good APR and SAPR rankings to recruit the best players, we think those programs with good academic progress will have increasing athletic success. Then having players that were also good students would help football teams win.

“It’s important that people realize that being good in school, educating your athletes well, can help your team win,” he said. “If we get that across, it will make a difference in people’s lives. Athletics and academics do belong together at major universities. They can help each other.”

The NCAA’s APR examines whether individual athletes in each of a school’s sports programs remain academically eligible to play and whether the player remains in the program.

Lucas and Lovaglia’s ASR rates football programs on all-time winning percentage and several factors during the past five years, including wins, conference championships, total attendance at home games, bowl games and national rankings of 25th or better. The SAPR combines the two ratings to rank teams on both academic progress and athletic success.

“The athlete’s desire to have the best possible shot at a pro career is reflected in the SAPR,” Lovaglia said. “Players can have both a good education and a good showcase for their athletic talent.”

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