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September 05, 2004

At Cal-Berkeley: Students AND Athletes All

FROM THE LEFT COAST comes a report on the special case that is U-Cal Berkeley, arguably the best example of top-notch academics and athletics competitiveness among the 300+ Division I schools.

In a thorough mini-novel feature in the Sunday LA Times, author, physician and freelance writer Steve Cohen, adeptly traces the recent history of college athletics—TV money, scandals, poor grad rates, NCAA initiatives—to set up his observations of the remarkable athletics program at UC Berkeley.

There is plenty of objective evidence of Berkeley’s renown among its peers in the diametrically opposed pursuit of academic and athletic prowess (that is, excellence in both pursuits by the same student-athletes).


• The grad rate for Cal-Berkeley student-athletes last year was 73%. That compares to 62% among D1 student-athletes nation wide.

• For the past two years Berkeley ranked in the top 10 among all D1 schools in the Sports Academy Directors’ Cup, which gauges a school’s overall athletic success.

• Last year, almost half of Berkeley’s student-athletes achieved a 3.0 GPA (not easy given the school’s demanding curriculum).

• Cal student-athletes are not allowed to pursue creampuff courses. For example, there are no “Math for Jocks” courses, and no physical education majors.

• The school’s academic departments consistently rank among the top five in the country.

Among many accolades offered in the article was this one from University of Oregon president David Frohnmayer, who said, “Cal is the best public school in the country.”

Things were not always so rosy for Cal-Berkeley. In the 90’s there were two unrelated instances of chicanery—paying basketball players and fake grades for football players—which the university did a poor job of investigating (the NCAA termed it “a woefully inadequate inquiry”). The NCAA decided that Cal was a repeat offender that had lost institutional control, and the penalties were substantial.

The penalties caused a shame and embarrassment so significant that Cal authorities saw the error of their ways and stepped into the future with resolve and commitment to pursue athletic and academic excellence in a genuinely honorable manner.

So far so good.

Using as its springboard an ability to attract “the pick of the litter,” Cal-Berkeley often gets first choice on a rich inventory of top notch high school student-athletes, both from California and throughout the country.

There are several other academically excellent D1 schools—Rice, Tulane, Baylor, Northwestern, Vanderbilt and Tulsa come to mind—but Cal-Berkeley stands (with perhaps only Stanford and UCLA) in its ability to fulfill the true ideals of student-athleticism.

Cal-Berkeley starts off by being very diligent about recruiting student-athletes with academic potential, a willingness to take advantage of the support resources and to become part of the university culture.

The school does not operate its academic support program under the umbrella of the athletics department (75% of universities segregate their academic counseling within the academic department, which only fosters more separation and segregation of athletes from the general university population).

In the aftermath of Cal-Berkeley’s scandals, investment and commitment to the program was stepped up considerably. The school’s $40 million budget (for 27 sports) compares to Stanford’s $45 million (34 sports) and Washington State’s $23 million (17 sports).

The results have been impressive. In addition to the great grad rates and GPA’s cited above, Cal-Berkeley has been very competitive in the tough Pac-10 conference. Last year, Cal-Berkeley’s football team was the only team to beat co-champ Southern Cal. This year the football team is ranked 13th in the AP poll and 22nd in the Sports Illustrated poll.

Kudos for Berkeley.

(this 581 word excerpt—with attendant commentary—was distilled from a 3138 word article in the Los Angeles Times of 9-5-04)