Big East schools making academic gains

Every once in a while, it is important to remember that there is a reason players at every single university in America are called student-athletes.

Because, you know, they are on campus to get that all-important degree. While everybody is familiar with what football players do on Saturday, every athlete you root for has an overloaded schedule filled with classes, study hall, home work, practice and film study. So I felt it is important to recognize two Big East schools that have made some serious strides with their academic reputations this last semester.

USF and Louisville each set program marks for academic performance during the recently completed spring semester. But what makes this an even bigger accomplishment at each school is what they had to overcome to get there.

Just one year ago, the Cardinals announced they lost three scholarships because of a poor Academic Progress Rate performance. APR is a measure of eligibility and retention of student athletes over a four-year span. Its intention is to help schools better track how their players are doing in the classroom. In the 2011 report, Louisville went below the NCAA minimum 925, thanks in part to coaching turnover. During the four-year span that was measured, the Cardinals had three different head coaches (Bobby Petrino, Steve Kragthorpe, Charlie Strong).

Strong put a major emphasis on academics, and that showed this spring. Thirty-seven players had a grade-point average of 3.0 or better -- two had a perfect 4.0. Seventy-three players earned a 2.5 GPA or higher this spring. The team produced a combined 2.76 GPA for the semester, the highest average under Strong.

USF also made major strides since poor APR marks in 2006. Over the past two years, the Bulls have posted the largest APR gains of any team in an automatic qualifying conference. This spring, a program-record 37 student-athletes posted a grade-point average of 3.0 or better. USF also set a new top mark with a semester GPA of 2.76, better than the record of 2.64 set in fall 2011.

Since Skip Holtz became coach in 2010, the number of players with at least a 3.0 GPA has increased each semester.

"I feel like we're really healthy right now as a program," Holtz said on the school's website. "Not just physically, but academically we're on a very sound foundation."

Rutgers already made serious improvements under former coach Greg Schiano, ranking in the top three in APR in the nation in his final four years with the Scarlet Knights. Last year, Cincinnati won the Big East Academic Excellence Award for the 2010 season. The football team had a 2.68 GPA for the 2010-11 year, including an all-time team record of a 2.9 team GPA for the 2011 winter quarter.

And every Big East school was represented on the 2012 National Football Foundation Hampshire Honor Society, recognizing college players who maintain a cumulative 3.2 GPA or better throughout their college careers. The Big East was the only one of the six automatic qualifying conferences that had every school represented.