This was the headline in Saturday's Hartford Courant: "UConn Football Players Concentrating On Classroom In Summer".
We're certain that coaches and counselors are forever repeating that message although there are no guarantees that it will get through to the players. Just last week, the Huskies best wide receiver, Mike Smith, was declared ineligible for the 2011 season because of -- you guessed it -- academic issues.
The Courant's Desmond Connor writes that UConn starts practice on August 5, and between now and then football players are required to take summer classes. It's a small price to pay to play Division I football in a BCS conference. Plus, there are also benefits. Namely, graduating in December, a semester before the rest of your class.
Sophomore Mike Box, one of the four quarterbacks in contention for the starting gig, has gotten the most out of his academic experiences at UConn.
"I'm already halfway through my junior year, academically, because of all the extra classes over the summer," Box, a psychology major who red-shirted as a freshman, said according to the Courant. "I'm [on the way] to graduate early. It really helps to take that kind of pressure off so you're not chomping at the bit in the last second to get your diploma; you're not struggling or having to stress about it. It's a relief. I appreciate getting in here early and then over the summer."
As you might expect, head coach Paul Pasqualoni says players aren't breezing their way through summer classes by taking easy courses stereotypically populated by athletes.
"We don't have those classes here," Pasqualoni said. "There's no place to hide anybody here and I'm used to that, because [at Syracuse] there was no place to hide anybody either, so any student taking any class on this campus is taking, what I consider to be, a college-level class that requires commitment."
Anecdotally, the players majoring in the historically difficult subjects (like, say, finance, math or biology) never flirt with academic ineligibility. It's those players who don't attend classes and consider college a stopover on their way to the NFL or NBA. Of course, not every high school All-American will get a chance to play professionally. More than that, poor academic performance reflects badly on the university and the team-specific sport. We saw that recently when the men's basketball team's low APR led to NCAA sanctions.
Mike Smith's academic issues aside, the football team posted an APR score of 953 (the national four-year average in football was 946, and any score below 925 can lead to penalties from the NCAA).
Coach Jim Calhoun has since vowed to improve the men's APR results. Maybe he needn't look any farther than the football team for a game plan.