To hear State University System Chancellor Charlie Reed describe it, the graduation rates of athletes at Florida schools are terribly inadequate.
Which is a step up, because they used to be unacceptable.
"It's twice as good as it was in '85-86," Reed said. "And it still has to improve twice as much."
Approximately 42 percent of the student-athletes who entered Florida's 10 Division I programs between 1983 and 1985 graduated within six years. The national average for athletes was 51 percent.
Thirty-seven states had better rates of graduation for athletes during those years. These figures were released in the 1992-93 NCAA Division I Graduation-Rates Report, a publication the NCAA expects to update each year.
"We are in the education business. As far as I'm concerned, those athletes are receiving education scholarships," Reed said. "If they don't get a degree when they leave, then they have failed and we have failed.
"The baccalaureate degree they should earn will last a lot longer than their (pitching) arms."
While still well below the national average, Florida universities have made dramatic improvements in recent years, Reed said.
When the Board of Regents for the State University System began requiring athletic departments to report graduation rates in 1986 _ several years before the NCAA started compiling the data _ only 25-30 percent of athletes were graduating, he said.
"I'm the first to say we've got a long way to go," Reed said. "But I know how far we've come. I want to commend the universities for what they've done, to nearly double the rates in a short time."
The low numbers in Florida were virtually across the board, with nine schools under the national average (Stetson is the lone exception at 59 percent). From every angle, the figures appear subpar for Florida athletes:
At seven of the 10 schools, the athletes graduated at a lesser rate than the overall student bodies. Only South Florida, Stetson and Jacksonville had higher graduation rates among athletes.
Both public and private institutions in Florida fell below the national average. Public institutions, which fall under Reed's auspices, had a graduation rate of approximately 41 percent. The four Division I private schools _ Stetson, Miami, Jacksonville and Bethune-Cookman _ were at 47 percent.
Florida State and Miami, which in the past two years joined the Atlantic Coast and Big East conferences, respectively, would have had the worst graduation rates in those leagues. In fact, of the 19 teams now in those conferences, FSU and Miami were the only universities under 50 percent. However, neither school was in its current conference during the time period covered by the NCAA survey.
"When we joined the ACC, we made a commitment to them that we would play on a level playing field in terms of the academic quality of the athletes," FSU president Dr. Dale Lick said. "If you ask me how we're doing in the ACC, I'd say "We're dead last.' That's not a desirable place to be. That says our work is cut out for us.
"I'm not saying we're going to be at Duke's level anytime soon, but we should be up among the best schools in the ACC."
According to Lick and Reed, recruiting more qualified student-athletes is the key to improving graduation rates.
"The single most important thing we can do is get the word down to the junior high level that we will not take athletes who have not taken pre-college coursework and who are not properly prepared," Reed said.
Adding more academic advisers in the athletic department and making coaches more sensitive to academic needs (going so far as including graduation incentives in coaches' contracts) also will help.
"There's been a new tone set for expectations," Lick said. "Our coaches have taken it as a challenge to bring in a better quality athlete, academically speaking."
BY THE NUMBERS
Percentage of athletes graduated from major conferences (three-year figure is for incoming freshmen in 1983-85):
Big East 68 66
Big Ten 64 66
Atlantic Coast 62 61
Pac-10 55 57
National avg. 51 52
Southeastern 47 51
Big Eight 46 45
Southwest 44 43
Percentage of graduates from Division I state schools (incoming freshman in 1983-85):
School Athletes All students
Bethune-Cookman 32 37
Central Florida 40 43
Florida 45 56
Florida A&M 28 35
Florida Int'l 47 56
Florida State 43 53
Jacksonville 41 39
Miami 48 56
South Florida 46 38
Stetson 59 58
NOT MAKING THE GRADE
Academically, FSU and Miami were at the bottom of their conferences.
Only one SEC school was among the nation's top 100 in graduation rates.
Florida universities were well below the national graduation average.