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Oh the scrutiny and that's OK

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Does anybody remember how excited we all were on Feb. 6th?  I for one was clicking on various recruiting websites and the Gopherpsports.com at a rate of about 27 clicks per minute.  That day was refreshing and seemed to put the 1-11 season in the rear view mirror, hopefully for good.  Now that day seems like a LONG time ago and the elation of signing a nationally ranked, top 20 class has faded.

According to Rivals ranking here are the top nine recruits (all four-star players), only five are currently participating on the team due to various reasons.

  • MarQueis Gray - recently suspended pending academic issues
  • Keanon Cooper - PLAYING, woo-hoo, back up safety
  • Brandon Green - PLAYING, back up wide receiver
  • Vincent Hill - academic casualty not admitted
  • Sam Maresh - open heart surgery, unforeseen but not participating
  • David Pittman - on the team, injured with sore hammy
  • Traye Simmons - PLAYING, starting corner
  • Jewhan Edwards - PLAYING, back up defensive tackle
  • Spencer Reeves - academic casualty, hopefully will be admitted in January

Dennis Brackin of the Star Tribune put out a damning report of the academic standing of this year's freshman class.  The STrib requested freshmen ACT scores for the incoming recruiting classes of the rest of the Big Ten, eight schools complied and Minnesota finished eighth. 

While some of the data could be flawed as it was a Star Tribune survey, not an official NCAA report and there is no way of verifying the accuracy.  It is missing data from Michigan, Penn State and Northwestern which may or may not affect our standing.  But the fact remains that the actual freshman class (JUCOs and non-qualifiers excluded) had a collective ACT/SAT composite score of 17.78 which is rather low.

One could argue that it is less about entrance exam scores and what matters is graduation rates.  But Minnesota has historically demonstranated embarrassing graduation rates as well. 

The Gophers were ranked 11th and 10th in the Big Ten in the latest two NCAA Graduation Success Rate studies (measuring six-year graduation rates). In both years Minnesota and Michigan State ranked at the bottom of the Big Ten, and were the only conference schools failing to graduate at least 50 percent of their football players.

I want to field a competitive and championship program but the history of our inability to graduate football players is embarrassing.  Brackin's article mentions but does not focus on the efforts by the U to change this pattern of 50% grad rates.

(Robert) McMaster (university vice provost and dean of undergraduate education) said he believes the university has programs in place to help at-risk students, whether they are athletes or not. The athletic academic counseling unit has expanded in the past couple of years, and the university last year instituted a Bridge to Academic Success program. That program brings at-risk students to campus during the summer before their freshman year and takes them through a couple of courses to provide a preview of college life.

"Last year was the first year of the program, and we saw that the kids who came into the Bridge, both athletes and non-athletes, did really well," McMaster said. "We're really trying to enhance the programs like this to help at-risk students ... and provide that extra support."

Gray was enrolled in the Bridge program this summer.

I would love to get more details about the Bridge program and it will be very interesting to see how this affects grad rates over the next several years.  But the problem will persist in spite of the University's best efforts if we continue to bring in large quantities of  academically at risk kids.  Every program in the country takes a chance on a handful of kids, but we seem to have lost an awful lot before the football season even begins.

There is hope, however.  We can all HOPE that Gray gets his issue cleared up in teh near future and he can rejoin the team.  We can also HOPE that Reeves gets his issues resolved and he will begin classes in January.  IF (big if) that were to happen then when all is said and done we probably lose only two of the 31 we signed back in February.  Three if you count Rozelle Gayden who is also an academic issue guy who we hope will end up at the U before all is said and done. 

The balance between building and winning program and doing so while graduating players is difficult to balance.  Football academics is an area where the U of M has failed worse than their on field performance.  Brewster has a very difficult challenge to dig us up from the bottom of the Big Ten in win% AND graduation rates. 

There has been plenty of criticism of Brewster to date by the local media, most of which I think has been unfair.  But this is an issue that I believe is worth raising.  There should not be a massive overreaction to Brewster's recruiting class until we see how many of them graduate or until we see a pattern of this.  The only fair way to judge him, the University and the athletes is to see the graduation success.  But it is absolutely worth keeping a sharp eye on.