This is an end game Ollie is winning

The NCAA's latest acronym toss, the "GSR," rained like hailstones on UConn last week, turning the state's flagship university into a punchline for an eight percent graduation rate within the men's basketball program.

And that's all anybody sees. Or cares to. Eight percent. Insert joke here. No other circumstances or details count, mostly because the inconvenience of complexity has prompted our society to associate truth with convenience and not … the truth.

The truth is this: The GSR, or Graduation Success Rate, is another arcane measure of academic progress that demands more thorough explanation from the NCAA. Instead, the numbers are thrown against the wall to see what sticks, more fodder for the scoreboard in the burgeoning sport of education.

Yes. This is our evolution. Education as sport, awash in competition, scorekeeping, scoreboard watching. Test scores hold local school systems hostage, regardless of whether they measure learning. The NCAA, meanwhile, has determined that its member schools may not participate in the NCAA tournament without a proper score on the Academic Progress Rate. Now comes the GSR. Scores are posted. It's all a game.

And it's a game that new coach Kevin Ollie is winning at UConn. His diligence in changing the culture of the program has been noteworthy, if not impressive, belying the rhetorical effect of the latest grenade of eight percent.

The latest GSR numbers reflect whether freshmen basketball players who entered the program between 2003 and 2006 graduated within the GSR's six-year window. It is completely out of Ollie's purview. Except that the school prohibited from participating in last season's NCAA tournament for insufficient academic achievement is back in the news for insufficient academic achievement.

Notez bien: The GSR does not punish a program for players who leave school early for the NBA or transfer so long as they leave in good academic standing.

Here is a breakdown of the dramatis personae who failed to graduate:

2003: Charlie Villanueva left early for the NBA and was not in good academic standing.

2004: Rudy Gay (left early for the NBA, not in good academic standing), Antonio Kellogg (transferred in bad academic standing), A.J. Price.

2005: Jeff Adrien, Craig Austrie. (Rob Garrison and Marcus Johnson transferred from that class in good academic standing).

2006: Jerome Dyson, Gavin Edwards, Jonathan Mandeldove, Doug Wiggins, Stanley Robinson. Charles Okwandu, a transfer, did graduate and counts toward the 2006 class because that's when his class started.

Essentially, UConn failed to play the game of keeping its players in good academic standing, regardless of the players' intentions to transfer or leave early. Other institutions do it frequently. If players are about to leave for the NBA, they set up independent studies courses or internships, for example, to maintain proper academic standing. Hence, their departures don't count against the GSR.
We can all dismiss that as fraudulent. Maybe it is. But those are the rules until somebody enacts new ones.

Clearly, Ollie and his staff have more control over such issues now, evidenced by UConn's perfect Academic Progress Rate score recently announced. But there's still an ugly perception.
Sorry. But former coach Jim Calhoun bears the responsibility of subjecting the university to the embarrassment of eight percent. This isn't going to sit well with the spinners and troubadours of our state who want to write his legacy a certain way. But the man who won three national championships and is one of the greatest coaches in the history of the world is the same man who didn't pay enough attention to academic issues within his program and has the university still answering for it.

I don't believe Calhoun ignored education, evidenced by the words of Taliek Brown and Tony Robertson, who recently returned to UConn to earn their degrees north of 30 years old. They both credited their old coach. But I do believe Calhoun failed to realize the significance of playing the academic game.

By the simple nature of the words "academic game," we could drift into an easy rant about the NCAA's warped insistence at linking the concepts of graduation and education. Schools can — and do — easily graduate their athletes without much education involved.
But that's not the point. The point is this: To maintain the program's tournament eligibility, not to mention its reputation, the NCAA's warped guidelines must be followed. Happily, Ollie and athletic director Warde Manuel have that figured out.

School sources say the next round of GSR numbers won't be pretty, either, reflecting the end of Calhoun's tenure and not the beginning of Ollie's. So get ready, UConn fans. We know the current truth. But we won't see its totality for a while.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

Mike DiMauro


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