So far Urban week has looked at Meyer’s recruiting, potential coaching staff, and big game record. While these on-the-field aspects of Meyer being hired as the coach are important, since this is college football the off-the-field aspects are even more important. While the ability to get wins on the field is the way that many people judge a coach, his ability to help student-athletes get an education and become good people are also important. Today we look at the arrest record and graduation rate of the players who played for Urban Meyer at Florida.
For many people, the elephant in the room concerning Meyer’s hiring is the number of his players that were arrested while he was the coach at the University of Florida. During Meyer’s six years as the head coach of the Gators, 25 players were arrested on a total of 31 separate charges; four players each had two charges while one other had three. The most common charges were misdemeanor battery (6 occurrences) and possession of marijuana (4 occurrences). Other changes included possession of alcohol by a minor, DUI, burglary, and felony theft.
Urban Meyer handled these arrests in a variety of ways. Most players were punished with suspensions of various lengths, a few were kicked off the team, and some punishments were handled internally. There were a few cases where no punishment was handed down from the team. Two of the cases that did not have punishment from the team were very curious as they involved charges of theft. The first of these cases involved Tony Joiner who broke into a car impound lot to get his girlfriend’s impounded car, Meyer stripped Joiner of his captaincy but did not give him any real punishment. The other involved Dawayne Grace who was charged with misdemeanor battery and theft stemming from a sworn complaint. In both cases the charges were dropped, in the case of Grace this was due to the victim not wanting to prosecute; the reason behind Joiner’s charge being dropped are not known.
Over six years as a coach, Urban Meyer’s team averaged 4 players arrested per year; that is approximately 5% of the scholarship players on the team. This seems like a rather high rate, and it is considering the general population or even the general student population, but college football players are unfortunately known to get in trouble at a higher rate than the average so the important thing is to see how this compares to the arrest rates of other coaches, most importantly, how does it compare to when Jim Tressel was at Ohio State.
In order to provide accurate comparisons, we look at the first 6 years of Jim Tressel’s tenure at Ohio State; this is done to get a similar mix of players already in the program and new recruits between the two coaches. During that time period, 2001 to 2006, 27 Ohio State players were arrested. We will not go into details of the individual charges, mostly as Buckeye fans have gone through enough pain in the past year and we do not need to dredge up specific painful memories.
When looking at a similar six year time period, Urban Meyer’s Florida squad had slightly fewer players arrested than Jim Tressel’s Ohio State team, though the difference is not statistically significant. While the overall number of arrests was the same, the distribution of those arrests over the years differs. Tressel saw the number of players arrested trended downward toward the end of the studied time period, have 2 and 1 player arrested in years five and six, respectively. This coincides with the transition between players who were already in the program and those that Tressel recruited, suggesting that Tressel’s recruits were less prone to behavior that resulted in legal issues. Conversely, the distribution of arrests under Meyer were random, with 2 and 4 players arrested in years five and six, respectively. This does not seem to suggest that Meyer’s recruits were less prone to get in legal trouble than the players that he inherited.
It is hard to predict how Meyer will do at Ohio State in terms of numbers of players who will be arrested; this largely depends on the personality of the individual players. Unfortunately players will be arrested, as much as we hope that players will know better, there are always some that will get in trouble no matter what you do. Hopefully Meyer and his staff will do a good job at identifying potential trouble-makers and act appropriately.
Since our principal exposure to the football players comes from seeing them on the field and hearing about them through the sports media, it is easy to forget that they are student-athletes and that the student part should come first. With this in mind, we take a look at the graduation rate among Florida’s football players during Urban Meyer’s tenure as coach.
Graduation rates are a bit harder to come by than arrest rates, due to education privacy laws and the NCAA being fairly slow to publish its graduation data. So as an indication of academic success we will look at the Academic Progress Rate (APR) of Urbran Meyer’s teams. During all six years of Meyer’s tenure, his Florida teams had an APR higher than the NCAA average. His first season the Gators had an APR of 955 and over the years their APR rose at a slightly faster rate than the national average, peaking at 984 during the 2007-2008 season. Florida’s APR declined slightly over the next two years and the Gators posted a 972 during Meyer’s last season, still above the national average of 946. As much as we like to make fun of the SEC’s academics, Florida is one of the top academic schools in the conference and is ranked in the same ballpark as Ohio State in most national rankings of undergrad institutions. The similarity in the rankings of the two schools allows us to compare the APR of the two teams and be confident that we are getting a fairly accurate comparison, the comparison is not perfect though as the difficulty of individual programs and the distribution of majors of players will vary between the two schools.
During the years of 2004-2010, Jim Tressel’s Ohio State teams always had an APR above the national average; they were below the national average in 2003-2004. After posting an APR of 955 in 2004-2005, Ohio State slipped to a 934 before starting to rise, peaking at a 995 in 2007-2008. Like Florida did, Ohio State saw their APR decline the next two years and the Buckeyes posted a 971 in 2009-2010. Overall Ohio State under Tressel and Florida under Meyer posted similar APR rankings over the years of 2004-2010, indicating that the players on both teams were making similar progress toward earning their degree. Most importantly, the APR for Urban Meyer has constantly been above the national average, which should be a requirement of any coach at Ohio State.
While it is impossible to say whether Urban Meyer’s good APR scores are a result of recruiting or from his policies toward academic work while the players are in college, what is obvious is that his teams do better than average in the classroom, which is a great thing to see. It will be interesting to see how the Big Ten’s higher academic standards impact Meyer’s APR scores, if it all. It will also be interesting to see how those standards impact his recruiting as some players that could have gotten into the University of Florida will not be able to get into Ohio State. A similar situation was one of the many issues that contributed to the struggles that Rich Rodriguez had at Michigan. I suspect that Meyer will be more successful as his Florida teams had better academic performance than Rodriguez’s West Virginia teams.
Recently some Ohio State fans have argued that the Big Ten should lower their academic standards for athlete admission down to the NCAA minimum in order to better compete with the NCAA. This would be a horrible idea; colleges and their athletic departments should be placing academics first and working to win while also giving their students a quality education. If we lower academic standards just to compete, we are doing the ‘student’ part of ‘student-athlete’ a major disservice and are essentially creating a pro-team with players who are not paid. Ohio State is better than that and as fans we should be expecting our teams to succeed on the playing surface and our players to graduate, do anything else is lowering ourselves to the level of other universities when we should be striving to always be at the top in every category.
The personal development of college athletes in terms of their lives outside the realm of athletic competition is just as important as their development on the field. The good news is that in Urban Meyer, Ohio State is getting a coach who has a similar record in terms of player legal issues and academic performance to what the Buckeyes had under Jim Tressel. Hopefully we will see Meyer improve those records in the coming years.