Northeastern provides competitive edge for student-athletes on and off the court

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By Jill Saftel, News Staff

Between constant traveling, practices, lifting, film sessions and a grueling Division I competition schedule, it can be easy to forget that college athletes are, well, in college. But Northeastern’s student-athletes are in fact students first, and from the athletics administration to each player, no one on Huntington Avenue is forgetting that.

“We must always be mindful of the business we are in – we are in the business of education. Our goal has been to create a model that proves you don’t have to sacrifice academic achievement for athletic success,” Director of Athletics and Recreation Peter Roby corresponded with the News while traveling.

Roby’s model has proven successful. NCAA data released in late October showed Northeastern’s athletes are consistently ahead of the pack academically. As a whole, Northeastern student-athletes earned a Graduation Success Rate (GSR) two percentage points higher than the national average for Division I institutions without football. The differential increases to four percentage points higher when looking at the overall Division I average.

These figures include transfer students and student-athletes who leave school while in good academic standing. The GSR measures graduation over six years from first-time college enrollment.

The report included 13 of Northeastern’s athletic programs, as the NCAA calculates both men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field with cross country as one sport. Not included was men’s rowing, which the NCAA does not support.

Of those 13 programs, eight outpaced their national counterparts. Baseball, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, women’s ice hockey, women’s rowing, men’s soccer, men’s track and women’s track all matched or bested the national average.

“I think it starts, first, with the type of people our coaches are recruiting,” Roby said. “Our coaching staffs have done a tremendous job of recruiting student-athletes with good character who are highly skilled athletically and highly motivated academically. Our faculty athletic representative, Professor Fred Wiseman, has provided us with wonderful assistance and advice, and our Student-Athlete Support Services staff members have shown tremendous dedication to the welfare and classroom success of our student-athletes.”

Within the Colonial Athletic Association, Northeastern boasts the third-highest GSR behind Drexel University and the College of William & Mary.

“It is a great credit to our student-athletes, our coaches, our support staff and our partners across campus that we are seeing that model flourish,” Roby said. “I am incredibly proud of the success we have had academically, but our work is not done. Every year brings a new class of student-athletes, and it is our job to educate them on the importance of competitive excellence, classroom achievement and community engagement.”

While several Northeastern programs excelled, the baseball team and men’s and women’s basketball teams exceeded the university’s high standards. The baseball team’s GSR was 16 percent higher than non-football schools and 17 percent higher overall.

Men’s and women’s basketball both achieved a 100-percent success rate. The men’s average is 27 percent higher than the national average for Division I non-football schools, and 30 percent higher than the overall Division I average. The women’s team achieved a rate 14 percent higher than non-football schools and 15 percent higher overall, respectively.

“We try to hold everyone accountable, make sure the work gets done so we can play,” women’s basketball junior captain A’lece Mark said.

Mark was named CAA Player of the Week after leading the Huskies with a career-high 28 points to a 73-62 win over Boston University Friday. Earlier this year, she earned a spot on the Preseason All-CAA second team. In the last two years, Mark has earned the CAA Commissioner’s Academic Award, given to student-athletes who maintains at least a 3.2 GPA.

She said between mandatory road trip study halls, tutoring, Student-Athlete Support Services and help from professors, support is ample. Having both academic advisors and coaches present in meetings further merges athletes’ success on and off the court.

“Peter Roby’s office is always open,” Mark said, “whether it’s to talk about our careers or basketball.”

And it appears Northeastern athletes can have both. Academic success isn’t compromising athletic success, and vice versa. Last season, the men’s basketball team notched a 20-13 overall record, made it to the CAA championship game and earned a bid in the National Invitation Tournament. Women’s basketball finished 17-13 overall, including a trip to the CAA tournament quarterfinals.

Continuing the university’s success, the baseball program had a 31-26 overall record, reaching 30-plus wins for the first time in 16 years, advancing to the semifinal round of the CAA tournament and taking home the Beanpot at Fenway Park.

Men’s basketball coach Bill Coen echoed Roby’s sentiment that student-athletes can have success on and off the court, except for maybe a social life. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day, he said with a chuckle.

“I firmly believe that they don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” Coen said. “You can be special in both areas. It’s not easy. We speak to that in the recruiting process; that we want people who want to be elite human beings, who want to be special in everything they do.”

As a coach, Coen said his job ranges from educator to surrogate parent for the players on his men’s basketball team. While the team shifts focus between schoolwork and competing, coaches are also multitasking. He said one of the aspects that often goes unnoticed is the tremendous support Northeastern University provides for its student-athletes, accommodating them in every way possible to ensure they accomplish their ultimate goal – earning a degree.

“Part of our role as coaches is being an educator,” Coen said. “We understand that our primary goal is to have our student-athletes graduate. If we can be excellent at basketball along the way, and we certainly try to do that, that is a complementary goal to the graduation rate … It’s incumbent upon us as coaches, as educators, as administrators to make sure we’re sending young people out into the world armed with a degree that can serve them for a lifetime.”

Northeastern’s academic success among its athletes follows a nationwide trend of upward momentum. The GSR, measured as a four-year metric, for graduating classes of all Division I student-athletes who entered college between 2003-06 climbed to 81 percent, an all-time high for the NCAA, and increases to 83 percent for Division I schools without football.

“I know what we do here is special. It starts with people who care, from our administration on down, from our senior vice presidents to our athletic directors to our people in Student-Athletic Support Services,” Coen said. “I feel very grateful to be able to work at a place that values education, that has everything in perspective, that wants to win but wants to win in the right way, without sacrificing opportunities for young people.”