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USF SAYS CHANGES HELP ACADEMICS

The school disputes a report of problems, saying it has moved to strengthen oversight.

USF experienced the euphoria of what big-time football is like last fall, basking in the attention that came with the No. 2 spot in the national rankings.

But such attention also brings scrutiny. The Bulls' rise in the polls prompted Alabama coach Nick Saban to question the school's academic standards. After the season, in the midst of a messy divorce, linebacker Ben Moffitt's wife claimed she wrote papers and took online courses to keep him eligible.

The school believes its standards are in line with other members of the Big East Conference and that changes made before this school year have strengthened its oversight.

Amy Haworth, associate athletic director for academics, said she welcomed the changes, which shifted oversight of the athletes' Academic Enrichment Center from the athletic department to the university's undergraduate studies department.

"It allows us to have someone without an interest, athletically, to be here and helping us," she said. " ... This allows us even more transparency, in that the entire university has a window to what we're doing and can come in and make suggestions for change."

USF changed its athletic oversight before the rise of its football team last fall, following a national trend of keeping university personnel in charge of athletes' academic supervision. Haworth reports to athletic director Doug Woolard, but she also answers to Glen Besterfield, associate dean of undergraduate studies.

"Doug had suggested it several years ago when he first arrived as something we needed to consider," Besterfield said.

Woolard didn't respond to an interview request.

Other state schools vary in their practices. FSU's academic advising office, like USF, reports to the dean of undergraduate studies. UF's athletic academics personnel report to the Office of Student Life, which has a committee that oversees academic issues. The Office of Student Life is an arm of the University Athletic Association.

USF's football and men's basketball scores in the NCAA's Academic Progress Ratings, which measure a school's ability to keep athletes in school and on track to graduate, have been below the NCAA's required threshold (925 out of 1,000; USF's football was at 910 last year, men's basketball at 898). As a result, USF is susceptible to NCAA sanctions that could include scholarship reductions, though more likely is a letter of warning in May when this year's scores are released.

USF's APR problems have largely been linked to retention and not academics, as schools can be penalized when students in good academic standing transfer to other programs.

USF last fall implemented a policy keeping athletic employees from teaching classes that included student-athletes, to avoid the appearance of conflict. Nine students in four classes were moved to other classes during the fall semester; Besterfield said one student is in a class taught by an athletic employeebecause it was "unavoidable."

Haworth disputed a story in the Tampa Tribune on Tuesday that reported that "fewer than half of USF's football and basketball players are on track to graduate," citing unspecified NCAA academic reports.

"If that were the case ... you wouldn't have 60 percent of the players out on the field," Haworth said. "The eligibility is tracked on a semester-by-semester basis, and that eligibility certification (requires) students making progress toward a degree.''

Greg Auman can be reached at auman@sptimes.com and (813) 226-3346. Check out his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf.

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