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February 21, 2013

The Pitt student-athlete:

Program outlined at Faculty Assembly

footballIn a special report to Faculty Assembly on the Pitt student-athlete, faculty members Lou Fabian and Kevin McLaughlin, co-chairs of the University Senate athletics committee, outlined National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)  rule changes that have taken effect this academic year.

Jennifer Tuscano, assistant director of academic support services, joined the faculty members to discuss tutoring and academic integrity efforts relating to student-athletes in the Feb. 19 presentation.

Fabian said the athletics committee, along with the faculty athletics representative, Susan Albrecht, and athletic director Steve Pederson vote on proposed NCAA academic rule changes.


“Freshman athletes, 18 years old coming into the university, are thrown into games sometimes before the universities even begin having classes,” Fabian said, noting that the NCAA has raised the requirements for qualifying to compete across all sports.

Incoming freshmen now must have a minimum 2.3 GPA (up from 2.0) and SAT scores of at least 1080 (up from 1010) to be allowed to participate in competition, he said.

Incoming freshmen also must have completed 10 of 16 core courses by the end of their junior year of high school, he said. “This is particularly difficult problem for some high school students because if they’re freshmen and they’re vo-tech or in a nontraditional college preparatory setting, it’s almost impossible for them to get 10 core courses completed by the end of their junior year. So, this requires counseling on the high school level much earlier,” he said.

Junior college transfers must have a minimum 2.5 GPA (up from 2.0) in order to compete.

Another change that eases academic challenges is a new 20-hour per week limit on in-season practice time. Previously, there had been no limit. Out-of-season practice is limited to eight hours a week, which Fabian said includes strength training and conditioning.

Restrictions on the length of season and number of games also have been implemented for some sports including baseball, which has been reduced to 50 games from 56 per season.

“They’ve made changes of this nature to try and help the athletes academically,” he said.

Academic progress

Teams that do not meet academic progress rate (APR) standards can be banned from post-season competition, Fabian said.

The APR is based on points for retention and eligibility. Each athlete can earn one point per term for each factor, contributing a maximum of four points per year toward his or her team’s score.

According to the NCAA, the team score is calculated by dividing by the points possible, then multiplying by 1,000.

This year, if a team’s academic progress rate falls below 900, it will be restricted from post-season play. That minimum score rises to 930 in 2014.

Fabian said Pitt’s APR for all 19 teams in 2011-12 was 975 with no team below 952.

He noted that 42 of 120 Division I institutions fell below 930 and would not have been eligible for post-season football under the limits coming into effect in 2014. Seven schools were excluded for being below 900, he said.

In basketball, 85 of 345 teams did not make the 930 minimum and 21 schools — most notably the Big East’s University of Connecticut — were deemed ineligible for post-season play based on the threshold of 900.

Student-athletes’ performance

McLaughlin said in 2011, 334 of 475 Pitt student-athletes (70.3 percent) had a two-term GPA of 3.0 or more while 16 had a two-term GPA of 4.0. The average GPA for all Pitt student-athletes in 2011 was 2.94.

Leading the University with the highest average GPA in women’s sports was the women’s tennis team with 3.35; leading the men’s teams in average GPA was men’s soccer with 3.04.

“Most important, no Pitt team has lost a scholarship or been deemed ineligible for post-season competition,” he said, commending academic support staff for their availability to help.

“Student-athletes really have every opportunity to get exactly what they need,” he said.

Academic support

Tuscano provided an overview of Pitt’s services for student-athletes. “We are unique in the fact that we report to the Office of the Provost,” she said. “Most academic support centers for student-athletes on campuses nationwide report to the athletics director. We feel very fortunate that we report directly to our provost,” she said, adding that her colleagues do work closely with athletics department staff.

Eight academic advisers work with student-athletes on Pitt’s 19 varsity sports teams. “Included in that staff is a full-time math specialist, a full-time writing specialist and four graduate student assistants,” she said.

Student-athletes have access to advising, career counseling, study skills and tutoring services in the Hilda M. Willis Center for Academic Support, located in the Petersen Events Center. Her staff also serve as liaisons to offices including disability resources, the advising centers and others on the lower campus.

“We are not the student-athlete’s primary academic adviser,” Tuscano said, noting their role is more as a backup to advisers from the students’ majors or schools who play the primary role in advising on course selection and degree completion.

Academic integrity

Students must adhere to the University’s policies, the Student Code of Conduct and judicial procedures, she said, adding that student-athletes are reviewed under the NCAA continuing eligibility certification process that certifies that student-athletes are eligible to compete based on credits earned and progress toward graduation.

Tuscano feels it is her job to educate student-athletes on what constitutes an academic integrity violation and how to prevent violations from occurring.

That’s done by listing University and NCAA policies in the student-athlete handbook as well as in the academic planner that athletes receive at the start of the fall term. In addition, the compliance office meets with every team in August or September to review policies and procedures.

Freshman orientation programs are held during the summer 6-week-2 session, when many student-athletes arrive on campus.

Coaches also go through annual rules education certification and new staff receive orientation in NCAA academic integrity rules, she said.


Tutors are Pitt graduate and undergraduate students who have received a B or higher in the course they tutor. All tutoring takes place during set hours in the academic center in the Petersen Events Center, which is monitored by a full-time staffer. “We do not allow our tutors to meet with our student-athletes anywhere else on campus because we feel like we have the best opportunity to observe the tutoring sessions in our own facility,” Tuscano said.

Tutors are trained in tutoring methods and meet with compliance staff to ensure they understand NCAA academic integrity rules.

Tutors are not permitted to type papers or assist with take-home exams or quizzes; they may not have contact with instructors or teaching assistants and they are not allowed to email student-athletes regarding their academic work.

“Finally, we do not schedule new tutoring appointments during the final two weeks of the semester if a student-athlete hasn’t sought help prior to that,” she said. “We don’t feel that we want to put our tutors in a position, essentially, to maybe tutor 13 weeks of a course during the last two weeks of the semester.”


Tuscano applauded the support the program receives from athletics director Pederson. “We feel very fortunate that we have an athletics director who supports our academic mission in academic support for student-athletes. At no time will a coach or student-athlete influence him or influence us when it comes to academic integrity,” she said.

She added that the program recently passed a 2011 internal audit with no significant findings. “The main focus of that internal audit was in our tutoring program, making sure that we have checks and balances in place and that we’re providing the best possible opportunities for our student-athletes to be successful in the classroom.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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