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Cougars emphasize academics

In this week's two-part look inside the Washington State football program we explain how the Cougars keep up with their classwork during a busy season. Today we'll examine how the Cougars keep their grades up, and tomorrow we'll explain what happens to those who fail to do so.

When the Washington State athletic department spent $61 million on a brand new football operations building, the idea was to build an athletic citadel in the middle of campus. It was to be a glitzy home where the football team could focus on football and football only.

And yet, two years later, at times it seems like the expansive edifice is just one more academic building on the college campus.

Stroll through the football operations building at certain times of day and you'll find study groups in the position unit meeting rooms, and tutoring in the training table cafeteria. One of the larger offices on the top floor has been given over to academic staff. The sounds of weight training and locker room banter give way to the solemnity of students studying.

The studying that is happening in the once football-only building is just the latest illustration of how the athletic department has merged its goal of producing a winning football team and graduating players.

And WSU's coaches play an important role in monitoring athletes and making sure they are keeping up on their studies. According to Pam Bradetich, a senior associate director of athletics, Mike Leach invites academic support members to his weekly planning meeting on Thursdays and requests frequent updates for him and his staff in the form of written reports, emails and text messages.

"Mike Leach is definitely more of a texter," Bradetich said.

The academic support starts when players first arrive on campus, when they are required to attend weekly academic planning meetings with a member of Bradetich's staff.

"From there we can assess individual student needs, based on those planning meetings," Bradetich said. "We are expecting our new freshmen to be in that study options program, where they must be able to account for at least 10 hours of studying in a structured environment. Maybe with a tutor, maybe in guided study, that we can document and verify the work was completed."

The Cougars have guided study sessions from Thursday through Sunday in which academic support staff, who are familiar with the players' individual needs, are available to assist their studies.

Bradetich is big on targeted assistance. Players who need more assistance might meet with an academic support staffer every day. Other players who meet certain GPA and study standards may be given total independence in their studies.

 

"The 10-hour option kick-starts them into 'oh, this is the amount of time it takes to earn the higher grades in the classroom,'" Bradetich said.

Even the players who don't need so much help managing their time are given academic support, however. Take Kristoff Williams, a wide receiver who graduated last season and is now at California-Berkeley's prestigious law school, never needed much tutoring to keep up with his studies.

Instead, Bradetich and her staff helped Williams with LSAT prep and the law school admissions process. Other athletes benefit from resume-building and career-prep  and placement services. Bradetich and her staff put together a portfolio of resumes of all the seniors she can convince to participate, and sends it out to prospective employers to help the students find work after football.

"The resources we commit to the academic services area has certainly been enhanced since (athletic director) Bill Moos arrived," Bradetich says. "It isn't just about building the buildings, Bill Moos has supported all of our student services tremendously since he's arrived. So the academic area has benefited from that, also."

Many football players graduate in fewer than four years because they are expected to be on campus during the summer, and the athletic department spends about $1 million on summer school for athletes.

Thanks to those efforts, WSU's graduation rate of 71 percent ranks No. 4 in the Pac-12. That figure includes players who transfer or leave school entirely. Among those who stay the graduation rate is about 93 percent, says Bradetich.



Jacob Thorpe
Jacob Thorpe joined The Spokesman-Review in 2013. He currently is a reporter for the Sports Desk covering Washington State University athletics.

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