One set of numbers was a fluke and another was a trend.
At least, that's what Kansas University associate athletics director Paul Buskirk says about two of the three most recent sets of KU student-athlete graduation rates.
The fluke, Buskirk says, is the 1992 group. Just 43 percent of KU's student-athletes and a meager 31 percent of its football players who were college freshmen that year graduated. The trend, Buskirk says, is how Kansas has responded since.
The NCAA's graduation-rate reporting rules give student-athletes six years to graduate. Thus, the freshman class of 1994 is the most recent class for which Buskirk has figured a graduation rate. That class saw 62 percent of its student-athletes graduate, including 56 percent of its football players.
"That year, 1992, was a bad year," said Buskirk, KU's associate AD for student support services. "We did a lot of analysis. But now I'm staring at one that makes me feel better. I look at one page and see 43 percent and 31 percent, then I turn the page and I see 54 percent of all student-athletes from the next year graduated and 46 percent in football. Then, the most recent, shows 62 percent overall and 54 percent in football. There's a pattern there."
The NCAA requires its member institutions to report graduation rates every year. The latest numbers, from the freshman class entering in the fall of 1994, were just compiled and are to be published later this summer by the NCAA.
While not where Buskirk ultimately would like them to be "You'd like 100 percent, but that will never happen," he said they were a marked improvement from the nadir in 1992.
"Were they the result of drastic changes?" Buskirk asked. "Yes and no. I like to think every year we get a little smarter and don't make the same mistakes over. But the biggest overall change is we can have as many academic support services as possible, but if a head coach isn't behind this, they will not work. If Roy (Williams, KU basketball coach), for example, isn't there, it goes nowhere. We're in position, in my opinion, where we have all our coaches across the board committed to academic excellence."
Of course, excellence is a subjective measure. To even out what Buskirk describes as the ebb and flow of graduation rates statistical anomalies there is a four-class average category, where four consecutive six-year groups are analyzed.
"Personally, I think that number is very valid," Buskirk said. "It evens out the roller coaster a little bit. That shows more trends."
KU's four-class average of the incoming freshman classes from 1991-94 was 54 percent for student-athletes, 54 percent for the general KU population and 52 percent for football.
By that measure, Kansas ranks eighth in the Big 12. Baylor leads the Big 12 in four-class student-athlete graduation with 66 percent, while Oklahoma State is a distant 12th at 39 percent.
Designated peer institutions Iowa (71 percent), North Carolina (68 percent) and Oregon (60 percent) all were well above KU's four-class average.
"We do still have a long way to go," Buskirk said. "And the bad part about graduation rates is, they show you what we did yesterday. The things we're doing today can't be measured for four or more years."
Buskirk has found several causes for the dismal 1992 class.
l Several members of that class transferred from football and other men's sports; transfers are automatic negatives in that they count against graduation rates, even if they graduate from another school.
l Men's basketball, consistently one of KU's strongest academic performers, had no incoming freshmen that season.
l And the 1992 class was small by KU standards, making each member "weigh" more statistically.
"When you have a smaller pool and more of those transfer out it makes a difference," Buskirk said. "But the fact is, 43 percent is unacceptable, and we hope we've made strides."
Associate sports editor Andrew Hartsock can be reached at 832-7216.