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San Jose State University

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Posted on Tue, Oct. 26, 2004
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 •  SJSU football's grades in
 •  Graduation rates: A look at local colleges
 •  Forum: Should SJSU keep their football program?

Still searching for reason to keep program alive

Mercury News Staff Columnist

If only the football team won games and attracted waves of paying customers, then everything might be fine.

If only it wasn't hemorrhaging money or operating amid deep disinterest. If only it had a strong core of alumni and backing from the highest ranks of the institution.

If only the student-athlete graduation rates released by the NCAA on Monday showed that San Jose State's football program was a peak performer, not a lackluster participant of the same-old, same-old.

If only there was some significant measure of success in one area of the football program. For many of us, it would be enough. Just one area: victories, fans, academics, local pride, anything.

But no, no, no, no and no.

The search continues for any compelling evidence that the program should survive beyond the nearest deadline.

The wins and losses (now 2-4 in Fitz Hill's fourth season) speak for themselves. Saturday's opponent, UTEP, has risen from the depths to a 5-2 record and the No. 24 BCS ranking in Mike Price's first season.

The inability of San Jose State to draw consistently has been chiseled into stone for years.

But let's look at football's 36 percent graduation rate for the class of scholarship freshmen that enrolled in fall 1997. And let's also evaluate the 25 percent grad rate for a four-year period beginning in fall 1994. (The four-year period includes three years of John Ralston's coaching tenure and one of Dave Baldwin's.)

These numbers are better than previous Spartans football grad rates. And they are much better than the 0 percent rate notched (for both the 1997 class and the four-year average) by the Cal men's basketball program, though there are many good and less-good explanations for the Cal zeroes.

But the Spartans' numbers still fall short from their football peer group -- Fresno State (50 and 40, respectively) and San Diego State (65 and 50) -- and well short of the Division I football average of 57 percent.

So if we're looking to justify the program by highlighting the academic success of the program's student-athletes, well, we better keep looking.

I think we may be looking and looking until the ax drops, though I know I will hear a thoughtful earful from Neil Parry the next time I see him; and I know I might almost change my mind when I see what Courtney Anderson is accomplishing for the Raiders.

But those are anecdotes, and we are talking about the bigger picture here.

I've been a guest speaker for a few groups recently, and each time, someone has asked: Can Spartans football survive?

Each time, I've said exactly what I'm saying here: I'd like to believe there are wonderful reasons to keep the program running, but I never seem to find one.

Can you? I've asked the crowd. Each time, the response is shrugs and silence.

Now I'm asking you. You follow the scores. Maybe you even go to a game or two a season.

If you know there are reasons to keep this program going despite the empty seats, lopsided defeats, money losses and graduation gaps, can you tell us what they are?

Can you?

Have a question for Tim Kawakami? Go to /sports or e-mail tkawakami His phone is (408) 920-5442.

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