Kansas University officials have invested heavily in an academic support system designed to put the word "student" back in student-athlete.
NCAA 1993 Graduation Rates
The NCAA calculates graduation rates of 298 Division I colleges. The 1993 report covers KU students who enrolled in 1983-84, 1984-85, 1985-86 and 1986-87, giving each six years to earn a degree.
The graduation rate after six years for all freshmen who enrolled from 1983 to 1986 was 54 percent. Among athletes, 50 percent graduated.
Graduation percentages for athletes enrolled from 1983 to 1986 by sport
Kelly Donohoe, Jayhawk quarterback turned high school teacher, knows what it's like to have a coach take a hard line on academics.
"I'll never forget the time I was a minute late for freshman study hall. For that one minute I had to get up at 5:30 the next morning and clean the locker room," he said.
Donohoe got the message. He finished his Kansas University football career in 1989, earned a master's degree and now teaches and coaches in Blue Springs, Mo.
There was a period when the message coming out of KU was much different. For example, in the last two years of Larry Brown's term as basketball coach, the team's highest grade-point average was 2.16 on a 4.0 scale. The university average at the time was 2.77.
According to the NCAA, KU struggled to graduate black student-athletes who enrolled from 1983 to 1986. The graduation rate of those students after six years was 11 percent for men's basketball players, 23 percent for football players and 38 percent for women cross country and track athletes.
"The reason so many athletes have trouble is that they're often the people who wouldn't normally go to college. They're recruited, they enroll, then nobody knows what to do next," said Kathleen Gabriel, a former athletic department worker who operates a program at the University of Arizona for at-risk student-athletes.
About the time Bob Frederick was hired as athletic director in 1987, there was a push to create a pud graduation track for KU's intercollegiate athletes.
Frederick and KU Chancellor Gene Budig were appalled. As allies, they made certain an alternative program for student-athletes never materialized.
"It would have cheapened the meaning of degrees earned by 175,000 KU graduates," Frederick said.
Instead, the athletic department expanded academic tutoring and personal counseling for athletes. Emphasis was placed on earning victories in the classroom as well as on the playing field or court.
"We have made a major investment in it, and will continue to do so," Frederick said. "We feel that we have an obligation to any young man or young woman who comes to our campus to do everything we can to help them achieve a degree."
Paul Buskirk, assistant athletic director, said the department increased the annual budget for academic support services over eight years from $70,000 to $410,000. That budget aids about 450 current and former KU athletes.
Support staff members provide personal counseling, academic tutoring and career development. They monitor students' performance in class and progress toward graduation.
Freshman student-athletes are hit with a mandatory seven-week program called CHAMPS (Challenging Athletes' Minds for Personal Success). There are sessions on defining success, dealing with fear and stress, organizing time, substance abuse and personal relationships.
"If we can connect with a student in the first five or six weeks, the odds of them persevering the next four years skyrockets," Buskirk said.
Budig said the fans and alumni who support KU athletic programs expect a first-class operation built on unquestioned integrity.
"The University of Kansas is committed to assisting student-athletes with their academic pursuits," Budig said. "Our academic initiative is a model for others. We want them well-prepared for life after athletics and graduation."
The chancellor said the academic performance of KU's athletes would improve in the next few years.
"Academic casualties will be few and, significantly, our students will be graduating from strong academic programs," Budig said.
Buskirk said the goal was to increase graduation rates of student-athletes to 80 percent.
According to 1993 statistics from the NCAA, 56 percent of athletes who entered KU in fall 1986 graduated in six years. Universitywide, 55 percent graduated in that period.
There are many reasons today's student-athletes struggle in college. The most significant is lack of academic preparation in high school, Buskirk said.
In addition, time demands on KU athletes are extraordinary. There's practice, class, weight training, travel, study hall, media interviews. Personal time is hard to find.
"Everybody wants a piece of them," said Mike Hock, coordinator of the athletic department's tutoring program.
Hock has grown weary of the dumb jock stereotype of student-athletes.
"That makes me angry," he said. "If you take 100 people off campus and compare them to 100 football players, you're not going to find a difference academically."
Frederick said he's hired coaches who insist on setting a strong academic tone for athletes. That includes recruiting academically inclined students, he said.
"If he or she makes it a high priority every day when talking with student-athletes then it's going to be a high priority," he said.
Gabriel helped develop KU's tutoring system. She said football Coach Glen Mason proved he was dedicated to education.
"I remember one Prop 48 kid was giving me a hard time. He was complaining that I was too strict," she said. "Glen Mason pulled him aside and said, `You do what she says or I'll pack your bags and drive you to the bus station.'''