San Jose State improved the graduation rate of its football players during the 2003-04 academic year but lags other California State Universities that play Division I-A football, according to figures released Monday by the NCAA.
The Spartans graduated 36 percent of their players, compared with 17 percent in 2001 and 21 percent in 2002. (Data for the 2003 class was not available because the sample size was too small.)
``I'm not satisfied with 36 percent, but I can see progress in the big picture,'' said Spartans Coach Fitz Hill, who did not recruit the players reflected in the graduation data.
``That's one thing I tell all of them: `How can we help you finish school and get your degree?' The choice lies within the individual.''
SJS players graduated at a lower rate than their peers at Fresno State (50 percent) and San Diego State (65) -- just as they did in 2001 and 2002.
They also failed to match the overall graduation rate of SJSU student-athletes (41 percent) and the student body (39). The latter number is significant because many students live off campus, work and have families, while football players are full-time students whose lives are closely monitored by coaches.
Football players at both Fresno State and San Diego State graduated at a higher rate than the student body.
``I've heard both sides of that argument,'' said Todd Petr, the NCAA's managing director of research. ``Athletes have scholarships and academic help, but they also have time commitments and pressures that some other students don't have.''
The NCAA tracks the progress of scholarship athletes over a six-year period, meaning the 2004 figures represent the graduation rates for freshmen who entered school in fall 1997 -- Dave Baldwin's first year as SJSU coach.
The crucial time, Hill believes, is the one- or two-year period that comes after a player's athletic career but before his graduation clock chimes.
``My job, as a head football coach, is to make sure he's able to come back,'' Hill said. ``A student-athlete, after finishing his eligibility, may have a child, family crisis, all of those things. What you want to make sure is that the student-athlete has the opportunity to come back and get that degree.''
Because graduation figures fluctuate dramatically from year to year, the NCAA also provided an average rate for four freshman classes beginning in fall 1994.
San Jose State's average of 25 percent -- three years of John Ralston's recruits and one year of Baldwin's recruits -- was far below its counterparts at Fresno State (40 percent) and San Diego State (50).
What does it all mean? Some believe graduation rates mirror a school's commitment to academics. But football and men's basketball coaches have long complained that the numbers are misleading. Their argument is based on three factors:
That they are held responsible for the academic progress (or lack thereof) of players brought in by their predecessors.
That the numbers do not account for players who fail to graduate but sign huge professional contracts.
That players who transfer count as non-graduates from their originating school.
To help balance that equation, the NCAA provides graduation rates for transfers to the incoming school.
``There are definitely flaws in that so many students transfer in and out of an institution,'' Petr said. ``But I do think it provides a useful measure within a school. It's hard to compare across schools unless it's the same demographic.''
Staff writer Mark Gomez contributed to this report. Contact Jon Wilner at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 920-5716.