FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas football was the program that came closest to the Academic Progress Rate benchmark of 900 after netting a four-year score of 938 in data released by the NCAA on Tuesday.
It also logged a single-year score of 924 for the 2011-12 academic year.
But Arkansas senior associate athletic director Jon Fagg said the Razorbacks don’t expect significant issues with the program moving forward.
The reason? He pointed to coach Bret Bielema’s academic success at Wisconsin as an indication the Razorbacks should perform in the classroom under his guidance.
Wisconsin’s football team received a public recognition award from the NCAA after posting a four-year APR score of 985 (2008-09 to 2011-12 academic years). The Badgers posted scores of 975, 967, 968 and 953 in four previous years.
Fagg said Bielema’s success with Wisconsin’s APR was a factor in his hiring.
“I knew from my perspective, and I don’t want to speak for (athletic director) Jeff (Long), but from my perspective, it was a real component,” Fagg said.
“When you look at Bret’s athletic success, that was really clear. There were three things that got me when I was looking at it. His athletic success. His lack of off-the-field problems. I mean if you go back and look at the time that Bret was coach at Wisconsin, he had virtually no arrests. Literally, virtually none. And then his APR success. To me, that says that’s an unbelievable coach as a teacher and a mentor and that’s certainly what he seems to be proving so far with us.”
Arkansas football’s multi-year score of 938 ranks 13th among Southeastern Conference programs. Only Tennessee (924) was lower. Programs that finish below 900 are subject to penalties like scholarship losses or postseason bans.
The Razorbacks’ score next spring will include a fall semester with coach John L. Smith in charge of the program and a spring semester under Bielema. The coaching change also coincided with the departure of a large group of outgoing players like Tyler Wilson, Knile Davis, Alvin Bailey, Chris Gragg and Cobi Hamilton.
Those two factors became a recipe for disaster for the basketball program in 2007-08, when it posted a 755 single-year score. But Fagg credited the outgoing staff for continuing to emphasize academics in a difficult year. He also said the football program’s large squad size helps offset departures in football better than basketball.
Now under Bielema’s watch, Fagg said the football program’s grade point average in the spring was one of its best as well.
“Bret has really come in and made a renewed, a different, commitment to academic performance,” Fagg said. “They genuinely talk about it all the time. …
“I watch him talk to them about the need to take care of business off the field to ensure they can take care of business on the field. Lots of coaches around the country talk about translating their discipline from the field to the classroom. Bret talks about it in some manner opposite. Translate your discipline from the classroom and off the field to the field. And they really go hand in hand for him.”