FARGO — School is out and all was quiet in the academic center at the Sanford Health Athletic Complex at North Dakota State on Monday. Kelli Layman’s computer would probably say otherwise.
Numbers are always crunching on the hard drive and in the last few years, they’ve been telling a pretty good story about the first half of the term “student-athlete.” One by one, the tweets have been rolling off NDSU team Twitter accounts about high team grade point averages.
“It was a good year,” said Layman, the associate director of athletic academics.
Softball, for instance, touted its semester record of a 3.67 GPA. And that is a program that is constantly on the road for games.
Another program high this semester in the classroom!! The Bison softball team finished with a team semester GPA of 3.67! Getting it done on and off the field!#StudentAthletes #attackmode pic.twitter.com/JmdxYyxxHJ— NDSU Softball (@NDSUsoftball) May 16, 2019
The most visible academic standard nationwide, however, is the Academic Progress Rate, or APR. The benchmark that tracks the retention of student-athletes rendered penalties on 20 Division I programs for next year because of a four-year APR average that fell below 930. None are perennially successful, however.
NDSU has no such issues. Bison football, in fact, carries a multi-year APR average of 983 that on an academic scale is almost as impressive as its seven Division I FCS national titles in eight years. Out of 253 Division I football schools that include FCS and FBS, only 39 had a better multi-year APR.
NDSU had 12 players with a 4.0 GPA in the spring semester and eight last fall.
“They’re recruiting a kid that can get it done in the classroom and we’re helping them to strive to get a little higher,” Layman said.
NDSU had the highest APR in the nine-team Missouri Valley Football Conference. Missouri State was next at 977. Youngstown State was the lowest at 945.
That’s not to say, at NDSU, there are no issues with a roster of over 100 players.
“You’re going to have 20 guys that are here just for football,” Layman said. “I hate to say that but that’s just statistics. It’s going to happen that way. What we hope is out of those 20 guys that we can get their heads switched around just enough that, yeah, they’re here for football but we also have to do this in the classroom. If you’re a 2.5 and we know you can be a 2.9, that’s our job. We’re going to push you to get a 2.9.”
The football team GPA in the fall was 2.99 and in the spring 3.03. Women’s basketball had the highest team GPA with a 3.78 in the spring. Men’s basketball had the lowest semester at 2.90 in the fall, but that rose to 3.09 in the spring.
The overall average GPA of an undergraduate student at NDSU this semester was 3.13. The average GPA of all student-athletes at NDSU this year was 3.42.
“I think it’s a combination of a couple things,” Layman said. “I think coaches put an emphasis on it. You have to do well to play and I think my staff is really good at driving that home for them. If you don’t get your grades, you can’t play. You have to be good at both. You don’t have to be exceptional, but good in both.”
It’s been a process. Softball changed the way it handled academics a few years back. Layman said the program instituted a mentoring system as a way to keep players accountable to other players. Seniors, for instance, will be matched up with freshmen and both are asked to keep tabs on each other.
“Now they police themselves,” Layman said.
Layman is a former Bison women’s assistant basketball coach who presided over the five Division II national titles in the 1990s. She was reassigned when head coach Amy Ruley retired and says she still misses the basketball end of that job.
But she’s still coaching.
“It’s a different type of coaching,” she said. “It’s now about the academics versus on the floor teaching of how to shoot.”
Instead of shooting percentages, her life now revolves around GPAs and APRs.
“It’s getting to see the huge improvements and we see those in the classroom,” she said.