Last week, UCF became the second-largest university in America and UCF’s football team made the top 25 polls for the first time. We were ranked above Florida, Florida State, Miami and South Florida, not to mention all the teams in the Big East, which was rumored to be courting UCF as a possible expansion member school. There was a lot of pride last Monday morning on campus.
Then, of course, our football team was upset Saturday and some of the luster was lost. No doubt that it was hugely disappointing yet I believe the pride should remain intact because of several sidebar stories that were not reported last week. As the director of UCF’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), I author annual studies on graduation rates and racial and gender hiring practices in college sport.
Unlike the other traditional Florida football powerhouse schools, the hiring of Keith Tribble, who is African-American, as UCF’s Athletics Director put us in a relatively unique place. In NCAA Divisions I, II and III, 95 percent of the nation’s athletic directors are white. The four Florida schools mentioned all have white male ADs.
I was on the committee that interviewed Tribble, who was among five excellent candidates. Tribble was the only candidate who talked about the importance of the student in the student-athlete. The results have shown, clearly.
One of the graduation rate studies that TIDES publishes examines all the football bowl-bound teams in December. The first time UCF made a bowl game, I remember an uncomfortable feeling when it was listed last among the 55 schools in graduation rates and next-to-last in what was then the new Academic Progress Rates (APR), measuring current players on the current teams. At the time UCF participated in the 2005 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, our graduation rate for football players was 34 percent and our APR was 880.
What a difference our athletic director and head coach George O’Leary have made. The football team now graduates 70 percent of its student-athletes. That is more than double the 2005 rate. UCF’s Academic Progress Rate is 972, a staggering 92-point leap. Now, only Miami among the five Florida schools tops UCF in both graduate rates and APR rates, and UCF is closing the gap. Between 2009 and 2010, Miami went from 75 to 81 percent for graduation rates while UCF climbed from 56 to 70 percent. Florida, FSU and South Florida all had lower graduation rates this year than previously reported in 2009.
Nationally, UCF was one of only six schools ranked in the top 25 for football success and APR. While we need to climb back in the polls, our APR standing is solid.
Coach O’Leary’s players have volunteered this year at the Avalon Little League, a kids’ Carnival in Winter Park and at a local elementary school. Very few coaches at FBS schools allow their players to do community service activities during the season.
I have been friends with John Hitt, our president, since he came to UCF. Although I was not in Orlando at the time, we had a regional office of the National Consortium for Academics and Sports on UCF’s campus.
I remember I was concerned when it was announced that UCF was going to go to the Division I-A level in football. I just was not sure it was a great idea or that we could ever compete with Miami, Florida, Florida State and later USF. Now here we are not only surpassing them on the field but also in the classroom.
Then we announced the construction of the new football stadium. Once again, I was skeptical about the investment of resources.
UCF built that stadium for less than the cost of renovations of many of the FBS schools around the country. On the week the stadium opened, I saw a transformation on UCF’s campus. Previously, I would see T-shirts and caps bearing the logos of UF and FSU more often than I would see UCF’s own gear. Now, this football team and this stadium and the whole athletics program have done what only sports can do best on campuses: bring the student body together with pride that UCF can have a winning program that also does well off the field. John Hitt’s vision of how athletics could help UCF become a unified campus has been realized.
There is an enormous pride that UCF is now the second-largest university in the country, especially since we admit students with record GPAs and record SAT scores as undergraduates.
There is much bad news about college sport across the nation. Like most schools, UCF has had issues in the past. But right now UCF can walk tall and be proud that we have such an outstanding athletics program as part of the educational experience at UCF. Now, as our sports teams reach new competitive levels and we are the second-largest university in the nation, we’ve shown that quality counts more than quantity. We will be back in the polls because our student-athletes are smart enough to engineer that.
Source: OrlandoSentinel.com, guest editorial: Proud to be a UCF Knight by Richard Lapchick | Special to the Sentinel 4:03 PM EST, November 16, 2010. Richard E. Lapchick is the chairman of the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program and the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.