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The Academic Success of Washington Athletics

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How the Huskies have dominated the Pac-12 off the field

While the Husky Softball team carries the torch for the University of Washington, we’re rapidly approaching the quietest time in the collegiate sports calendar. Fall football practices are still many weeks away, the biggest happenings on the hardwood involve the NBA Draft, and even the esteemed rowing squad has completed the Windermere Cup. What better time to take a step back to explore the academic half of the student-athlete?

The NCAA’s primary measure of classroom success is the Academic Progress Rate (“APR”). As the NCAA explains it, “the Academic Progress Rate holds institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.” The NCAA goes on to explain that the blended measurement of eligibility and retention is a strong predictor of graduation success.

Prior to the implementation of APR, the NCAA used graduation rates as a measure of academic success. Since the rates did not take into account time to graduation and did not account for transfers, the metric was inexact. When the NCAA adopted APR, it also updated the graduation metric to account for transfers and to differentiate between Graduation Success Rate (“GSR”) and Four-Year Graduation Rate (“FGR”). While this metric is secondary to the overall APR, the NCAA continues to track and distribute GSR and FGR as a measure of academic success.

Football

The most popular Washington sport remains its football team, so let’s look at how those Huskies compare to others off the gridiron. The short answer is that they do tremendously well. In the most recent academic year- 2017-18- the Huskies tallied a yearly APR of 991 and a multi-year APR to match. Both scores put UW in the 90th-100th percentile range for football teams nationwide.

The national average for football teams’ APR is 964 (962 for public institutions). Washington’s score is the best in the Pac-12. Utah comes in second with a very close 989. Interestingly, the top two academic programs were the teams who played for the Conference Championship at the end of the season. Stanford, the most venerated institution in the conference, checks in 3rd at 986. Surprisingly, UCLA, not Oregon, comes in dead last at 948. Oregon somehow nudged all the way up to eighth, and Washington State came in 10th.

Washington’s exemplary score holds up on a nationwide basis. At 991, UW ranks tied for 12th in among all schools with football programs (including lower divisions). Among schools in Power Five conferences, UW ranks fourth, behind only Northwestern, Clemson, and Duke. Clemon’s lofty ranking comes as a surprise and reinforces the idea that Dabo Swinney is more than just a good football coach. Only one school in a Power Five conference rated below UCLA: Florida State.

While Washington has been respectable in both GSR and FGR, it has not dominated the conference in those categories. In each of the last three years, Washington has ranked fourth in GSR. The Huskies were also fourth in FGR the last two years, but only ninth the year before, likely due in part to attrition associated with the coaching change.

High APR scores are nothing new for Chris Petersen. Before he took over at Boise State, the school’s score was 957. After dipping to 953 in his first year, it went to 968, 1000,1000, 984, 985, and 980 over the rest of his tenure. He has followed a similar trendline at UW. Steve Sarkisian’s final season earned a 973 APR. Petersen again saw an initial dip to 962, then surged to 1000, 994, and 991. As shown in the following chart, Petersen has never fallen below the average for NCAA Division 1 football throughout his tenure.

Other Sports

Football is not alone in academic success. In the last year, five different teams have finished with perfect APR scores: men’s cross country, softball, women’s soccer, women’s tennis, and women’s track. Women’s tennis deserves special recognition with a perfect 1000 multi-year APR. Women’s tennis is an exceptionally competitive sport in academic performance. Nationwide, the Division 1 average APR is 990. More than 10% of all schools had a perfect APR for the last year.

Softball’s perfect score is part of an outstanding multi-year APR of 997. That score compares favorably with the national average of 986th and ranks between the 80th-90th percentile of softball teams across the country. The score ranked Washington second in the Pac-12 this year and third the year before, both seasons that ended with trips to the Women’s College World Series. The multi-year score is tied with a handful of other teams and schools for the best multi-year APR in the entire Pac-12. Fewer than 100 teams from any school in any sport in the country have a multi-year APR of 997 or better.

Washington’s basketball team had a reputation for excellent academic performance under Lorenzo Romar, and Mike Hopkins has maintained that theme in the early days of his coaching tenure. The men’s basketball team has a single-year APR of 980 and a multi-year APR of 986 in a sport that averages 967 across the country. UW’s score places them second in the Pac-12 behind Stanford. As in football, Utah joins Washington and Stanford in the top three. Also as in football, UCLA ranks last by a significant margin and Oregon earns the nickname “quack” with an 11th-place finish. The score is not an anomaly for the Dawgs; Hopkins brought UW to second last year, again behind Stanford.

Washington has a similarly positive record in other major sports. The Huskies tied with USC for a conference-leading 990 APR in baseball. The Huskies are 4th in men’s track and third in men’s soccer. Women’s basketball, soccer, volleyball, and track have consistently finished in the middle of the conference for the last few years.

Despite these successes, there are some UW programs that lag behind. Men’s golf had the lowest overall score at 900. That APR ranks between the 10th-20th percentiles nationwide. The low score appears to be an outlier, though, because the multi-year APR for men’s golf is a more respectable 972. Women’s golf had a higher single-year score (947), but due to tougher competition in the sport, that was only in the bottom 10% of women’s golf teams nationwide.

Altogether, UW’s APR scores are among the very best in the conference. Chris Petersen has led the football team to great success on the field that has brought more attention to the school in recent years, but he deserves a tremendous amount of credit for raising the level of academic performance concurrent with the competitive improvement. Softball and men’s basketball have emerged as two of most successful programs at the school and both are among the best academic performers in the conference. It’s another reason to be proud to be a Husky. Perhaps more importantly, it’s powerful trash talk ammo next time you find yourself stuck talking to a Coug or a Duck.