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Area's college athletes making the grade

| Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012, 8:34 p.m.

Reflecting a consistent national increase of graduating athletes, the Graduation Success Rates of the Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia football programs reached record highs, according to NCAA figures released Thursday.

Penn State and West Virginia also duplicated the feat in men's basketball.

Penn State graduated 91 percent of its football players, an increase of 4 percentage points. West Virginia checked in at 79 percent, a 4-point increase, and Pitt was at 70 percent, a 5-point increase.

In men's basketball, West Virginia graduated 100 percent of its players, a 17-point increase, and Penn State 92 percent. Pitt had a GSR of 54, which is 10 percentage points less than a year ago.

The NCAA also listed a GSR of just 43 percent for the Robert Morris men's basketball team, a 10-point improvement from last year. The football team had a GSR of 69 percent.

The Pitt and Robert Morris men's basketball numbers reflect an unintended consequence of the rating system. Players who leave school early are counted the same as those who remain and use up their eligibility but don't graduate.

In basketball, which has a relatively small number of scholarship athletes, the departures can have a big impact.

Both Pitt and Robert Morris have Academic Progress Rates, which apply to current team members, that are above NCAA standards. The most recent GSR scores, however, are based on the four entering freshman classes from 2002-05. The NCAA began gathering data on graduation rates with the 1995 freshman class.

“Any non-graduate reflected in this rate during that time period either immediately transferred to another institution or pursued their own professional basketball aspirations,” the Pitt athletic department said in a statement. “In many cases, those non-graduates pursuing their professional playing careers continue to work with our academic staff towards graduation.”

“One of the issues I have with the (GSR), it's ancient history,” Robert Morris athletic director Craig Coleman said. “It's two coaches ago. That's why the NCAA came up with the APR. It's a much more current measure. Our APR is through the roof.”

The Duquesne men's basketball program had a GSR of 71 percent, and its football team was 80 percent, an 18-point increase.

In women's basketball, Pitt, Penn State and Duquesne had 100 percent graduation rates. Robert Morris was 89 percent and WVU 86 percent.

Nationally, graduation rates for Division I men's basketball and FBS football topped 70 percent for the first time, the NCAA reported.

The latest GSR in men's basketball is 74 percent, and in FBS football it is 70 percent, the NCAA said.

“Our academic reforms continue to bear fruit,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said. “We are proud we have reached another milestone, as now seven of every 10 student-athletes in our highest-profile sports are now earning degrees.”

Bob Cohn is a sports reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bcohn@tribweb.com.

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