Between volleyball's trip to the Sweet 16, the return of women's soccer to the NCAA Tournament and both basketball programs earning top-10 rankings nationally, it was a banner fall for University of Kentucky athletics.
However, the field of play wasn't the only place where UK excelled in the first semester of the 2011-12 academic year.
The Wildcats were truly student-athletes this fall, as Kentucky's 20 Division I teams combined for a mean team grade point average of 3.086 among student-athletes on scholarship. The average scholarship student-athlete GPA for the fall was 2.979, just short of UK's goal of a 3.0 GPA across the department.
"We had more than 50 kids with a perfect 4.0 grade point average and we almost got to the 3.0 as a department so I'm pleased with our effort," Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart said. "We came dangerously close again and we want to get past that. I thought everybody gave great effort. I thought the kids showed improvement and have clearly taken interest in their academics."
Of those 20 teams, 15 posted a GPA of 3.0 or better. Leading UK were 36 scholarship athletes and 56 total student-athletes with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Moreover, 185 scholarship athletes and 243 total student-athletes earned a 3.0 or better.
***See below for complete grade information for each sport***
Conventional knowledge about college sports says that success in athletic competition comes at the cost of academic performance, but that's something Barnhart and the UK administration are unwilling to accept.
"We want to put to bed the myth that you can't do both, that you can't be in athletics and do well academically because you can't focus on both," Barnhart said.
In talking to UK student-athletes and coaches about the state of the program, the word "community" is nearly inevitable. The Wildcats do not exist on an island separated from other athletic teams or the university as a whole, and a commitment in the classroom is a key component in that sense of community.
"We talk about the pillars of our program and clearly education is a big piece of that," Barnhart said. "Our job is to prepare them to compete well and have an opportunity to walk out and be a viable member of society. They cannot do that without their degrees."
To succeed in the classroom, UK student-athletes rely on the guidance of the Center for Academic and Tutorial Services (CATS). From the moment each student-athlete arrives on campus, CATS advisers are a key component of the academic experience.
CATS takes an active role in the academic success of UK student-athletes, but without coaches delivering the message of the importance of excelling in the classroom, this fall's high GPA would not have happened.
"The wonderful thing about what we have is that our coaches are committed personally to education," Barnhart said. "Having coaches that buy into it and believe in it and make the commitment to make sure student-athletes are performing off the field makes it possible."
While fall 2011 gives reason to pause and celebrate what the Wildcats have done both on the field and in the classroom, it's not an endpoint. Barnhart has his sights set on the elusive goal of a 3.0 GPA across the department as a whole for the entire school year, but his aspirations don't end there.
"Having an entire department, all our athletes above 3.0 at the University of Kentucky would be a great thing," Barnhart said. "That doesn't mean that's the ceiling."
|Sport||All Student-Athletes||Scholarship Only|
|Men's cross country||3.19||3.30|
|Women's cross country||3.47||3.51|
|Men's swimming and diving||2.71||3.03|
|Women's swimming and diving||3.34||3.35|
|Men's track and field||2.87||3.00|
|Women's track and field||3.41||3.46|
|Average by sport||3.066||3.086|
|Average by student-athlete||2.932||2.979|