Government and Technology and Sports Business

SPORTS: At Rose-Hulman, a great sports story that won't sell

December 26, 2005

The Indianapolisbased NCAA generated more news Dec. 19 with the announcement of the new Graduation Success Rate, which measures the graduation rates of Division I studentathletes.

The news was predominantly positive. The NCAA is doing a much more accurate job of tracking studentathletes, in particular those who transfer at some time during their collegiate careers. Previous measurements taken by the federal government automatically counted a transfer as a failure, even if that student-athlete departed his first school in good academic standing and went on to graduate from another institution.

The latest Graduation Success Rate showed that Division I colleges and universities, often stereotyped as "meat markets" which care only about the athlete and nary about the student, are doing a far better job than they are given credit for. Seventy-six percent of all Division I athletes in all sports are earning diplomas.

That said, the ink barely was dry when some questioned whether athletes were graduating at a high rate only because they were being steered to fluff majors and sympathetic professors.

In other words, no matter how much major colleges try to do the right thing, there will always be questions of whether they're doing it the right way.

It's the nature of a cynical beast.

For years, I have attempted to broaden the focus on college athletics by reminding folks the NCAA is far more than Division I, and infinitely more than Division I men's basketball and football, even if that is where the majority of the attention gets focused.

In that regard, I submit that one of the most impressive winning streaks in all of college athletics is taking place virtually right under our noses. It's happening in Terre Haute at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, which has a winning streak of 21.

Not games. Years.

That would be 21 years consecutively that Rose-Hulman, which is in the NCAA's Division III, has placed at least one studentathlete on an Academic All-America team.

The latest is offensive lineman Patrick Ludwig from Valparaiso. At Rose, he is studying civil engineering, and that is not a fluff major. His grade point average is 3.87, achieved in classes in which the professors are anything but sympathetic toward jocks.

Like most involved in college athletics, Ludwig isn't trying to extend his athletic career. He's in it for the fun, the camaraderie and the competition. At the end of the day-in his case, a Saturday-there's nothing that matches the experience of putting on a clean uniform, then getting it dirty.

Ludwig goes to class-16 to 18 credit hours per quarter-and fits football into that schedule, not the other way around.

But that's just the way it is at Rose-Hulman, which has a track record of bringing in the best and brightest. Since 1978, the school has amassed 64 academic All-Americans, 42 since 1990. Student-athletes in 10 different sports have been honored.

Yet Rose-Hulman is not atypical. Across the country, and across the depth and breadth of the NCAA, there are dozens-hundreds-of colleges like Rose, where the opportunity to participate in athletics fits neatly into the priority of academics.

And there are thousands of student-athletes like Patrick Ludwig. Good athletes but great students. You just don't read or hear about them. Sports editors and directors learn early that smart kids at small colleges equate to dull copy. If they don't sell newspapers or move the ratings needle, who needs 'em?

"In Division III," Ludwig said, "there's a realization among players and coaches that academics have to come first. And the coaches do a great job of making sure they schedule practice around class time."

It wasn't something he actively pursued, but Ludwig was pleased to carry forth the Rose-Hulman streak of academic All-Americans. "It's definitely an honor," he said. "It's a lot of work, a lot of hours, giving up things you'd like to do, but in the end it's worthwhile."

Giving up things like what, I asked?

"Sleep," he replied. "And eating dinner at a normal hour. You have to make sacrifices, although I don't consider them sacrifices. I wanted to play, and it's exciting to be able to do that." His athletic career is over. "Not too many opportunities for a 215-pound offensive lineman," Ludwig said. But his professional career in construction management is about to take off. "Ninety-nine percent of Rose graduates get placed," he said. Now that's a Graduation Success Rate.



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com.
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