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Unleashed: The “Real Numbers” Of College Athletics
Release: 07/09/2014
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We cherish touchdowns, points per game and goals as if those are the numbers that matter most in college athletics. But 4.0 Huskies Megan Kufeld and Thomas Tutogi plus those on all 21 of UW’s teams – including the 15 that had GPAs of 3.0 this spring -- know the truth. They can recite the sobering fact that college athletes are more likely to get struck by lightning than make it in professional sports.

By Gregg Bell
UW Athletics Director of Writing

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SEATTLE – Huskies teams have never been more prepared.

Not just for games. For life.

More than 70 percent of the Washington’s sports programs – 15 of the 21 – had team grade-point averages better than 3.0 in the recently completed spring quarter. Sixty-two percent of UW’s student-athletes had a 3.0 or better. Soccer team most valuable player Megan Kufeld and graduating senior football linebacker Thomas Tutogi each had perfect 4.0s. And 128 of the 600-plus student-athletes made the dean’s list with a 3.5 or better.

This is no accident.

The preparation of turning Huskies players into college graduates ready for the real world – the one beyond sports -- begins the first week they get on campus. That’s this week, with a huge, unique LEAP into college life.

“LEAP” is UW’s renowned Learn Experience Achieve Program. On Monday the newest Dawgs – including 27 freshmen in football, others in basketball, soccer, softball and gymnastics – started the highly recommended, six-credit course in the summer quarter. Five credits are in English for intensive writing. One credit is for work on life skills, resources and college expectations.

Recent LEAP students such as football’s Jeff Lindquist, David Ajamu and Keishawn Bierria, women’s basketball’s Heather Corral and gymnast Faith Morrison visited and advised the new Huskies on UW. It’s part of LEAP’s jump start for freshmen on life as a college student-athlete.

The talks are among the first items these newest Huskies get in their summer orientation. Others are a dorm room, a meal plan, schedules for classes and individual sports training – and, most impacting, “the real numbers.”

The “real numbers” of college athletics are what Washington’s award-winning academic advisor Liberty Bracken shows when she first sits down with freshmen in the Huskies’ Student-Athlete Academic Services offices. These cold, real facts frame each freshman’s individualized plan to achieve what ultimately matters most in college – far more than touchdowns, baskets, goals and runs scored.

More than 70 percent of the Washington’s sports programs – 15 of the 21 – had team grade-point averages better than 3.0 in the recently completed spring quarter. Sixty-two percent of UW’s student-athletes had a 3.0 or better.

I’m talking about the real world. Life skills. And, above all, using their opportunities in sports to earn a college degree.

Almost every Husky athlete – from freshmen wide-eyed this first week through struggling sophomores and even A-plus upperclassmen in succeeding years -- can recite the facts from a chilling chart the NCAA disseminated and then updated last fall.

Its heading is “Football Recruiting, by the numbers.” But its message resonates through all sports at Washington. It sits tacked above Bracken’s desk, blaring like a siren call across the Huskies’ athletics complex on Montlake.

“Oh, yeah, I know that one,” Kufeld, the redshirt junior goalkeeper and student extraordinaire, said when I mentioned it to her on Tuesday.

There were 1,086,627 high school football players in the U.S. as of 2012, according to the NCAA. Fewer than seven percent of those kids became NCAA football players.

The attrition from college freshmen still playing football competitively through their senior seasons was nearly 25 percent (from 20,042 to 15,588). Of those 15,000-plus only 350 college football seniors got invited to that year’s NFL scouting combine for likely draft choices. Just 300 rookies made an NFL team.

PDF: Probability of Competing in Athletics Beyond High School Level

Though almost all freshmen enter school believing it is their destiny, less than 1.6 percent of first-year college players make it to the NFL.

One point six percent.

Put another way: A high school football player in this country has a better chance at being struck by lightning during his lifetime (assuming an 80-year life) than playing NFL football, according to researchers at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

And for those lucky few who do make it to the NFL, these “real numbers” show only half of those 300 rookies make it to year four in the league. At a minimum NFL salary for 2014 of $420,000 – pared down to a take-home pay of $252,000 after taxes – Bracken’s NCAA chart declares chillingly: “You won’t make enough to live on for the rest of your life.”

“What’s going to provide for you and your family after football is over?” the chart asks these college kids. “Your college education!”

The NCAA’s report also states 1.2 percent of freshman college basketball players make it to the NBA. Just 0.9 percent of women’s basketballers make it in the pros. For men’s soccer it’s 1.9 percent. Even baseball, with the highest percentage of college freshman players who make it pro because of the many levels of professional minor leagues, sees less than 9.5 percent of collegiate players make it to the pros.

“It tends to be a hard realization,” Bracken said.

“But,” Washington’s academic advisor of the year and one of the top young advisors in the country says, “the great thing I’ve seen is these kids coming to the realization that other persons besides their sport coaches and teammates are important for them to succeed in college.”

Such as professors. Tutors. Community leaders. And, maybe most real of all, kids.

Husky football, basketball, soccer and many other sports have players routinely visiting Seattle Children’s Hospital. Dawgs give talks at Seattle’s schools. Keith Price, Phoebe Tham, C.J. Wilcox and McKenzie Fetcher (the gymnast that had a 4.0 GPA in winter quarter) interned at Green Lake Elementary in north Seattle over the last year.

“What they don’t all realize when they get here – but find out as they grow here at UW – is that they care about more than their sport,” Bracken said. “Like helping youth in our community.”


This “real numbers” message seems to be getting through to the Huskies.

Washington’s SAAS department this week released team grades for the recently completed spring quarter.  Fetcher’s and coach Joanne Bowers’ gymnastics team had Washington’s highest “small-team” GPA, 3.47; the SAAS staff believes it is the GymDawgs’ highest GPA ever. Kufeld’s and coach Lesle Gallimore’s soccer team had the Huskies’ highest large-team GPA for the second quarter in a row, 3.35. Men’s tennis was the male small-team winner for the spring quarter with a 3.32. Men’s crew was the large-team winner for the second consecutive term with a 3.16 – with majors such as electrical engineering and mathematics.

As you may know those guys did OK in their sport, too. Last month coach Michael Callahan’s rowers won their fourth consecutive IRA national championship, and fifth in six years. Talk about complete domination.

Softball made yet another NCAA tournament – while yet again excelling in the classroom. Coach Heather Tarr’s national powerhouse had a 3.15 GPA in season this spring.

University of Washington Athletics - Spring 2014 Academics
Fifteen Teams Above 3.0 GPA
Baseball 3.09  
Men's Crew 3.16 Men's Large Team Winner
Women's Crew 3.2  
Women's Cross Country 3.27  
Men's Golf 3.24  
Women's Golf 3.23  
Gymnastics 3.47 Women's Large Team Winner
Sand Volleyball 3.29  
Men's Soccer 3.02  
Women's Soccer 3.35 Women's Small Team Winner
Softball 3.15  
Men's Tennis 3.32 Men's Small Team Winner
Women's Tennis 3.43  
Women's Track & Field 3.20  
Volleyball 3.31  
Most Improved Teams
128 Student-Athetes Made the Dean's List
337 Student-Athletes Earned 3.0 or Better (62% of S-A)
Two Student-Athletes Earned 4.0 GPA
Megan Kufeld Women's Soccer 
Thomas Tutogi Football 

Coach Lindsay Meggs’ baseball team not only finished its best season in 11 years – all the way to the regional finals of its first NCAA tournament since 2004 – it also raised its team GPA from 3.01 to 3.09. That was despite being on the road for games during half of April and May, and then again while becoming civic heroes in Mississippi at the NCAAs during the last few classes before spring final exams.

Last month I detailed what Chris Petersen has done to raise already high academic standards for UW football. That includes the new coach making nightly, one-hour study tables Monday through Thursday for the first 10 weeks of every academic quarter mandatory for all freshmen. All players who are late for class – for anything – get “commitment time” with their position coaches. From 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. On Friday nights.

“What Coach Petersen has done in six months is amazing,” Bracken said. “His goal is a team GPA of 3.0. That’s never been done here (in football) before; it’s difficult to get a 3.0 at one of the top public universities in the world.”

Each of Petersen’s players that achieves a 3.0 GPA in a term gets a glossy picture with the recognition in bold across the top sent from Washington’s coach to that Husky’s parents and to his high school coach back home.

Tutogi sure earned his. The middle linebacker got his perfect 4.0 GPA in his final term at Washington; he’s back home in the San Diego area as a UW graduate now.

Tutogi transferred to Washington from Southwestern Junior College in Chula Vista, Calif. In the spring of 2013 he presented at UW’s annual Undergraduate Research Symposium. Using interview analysis, photographic analysis and participant observation he determined what Nike looks for in the athletes it signs to endorsement contracts. Tutogi concluded that superstar athletic achievement, and little else, determine Nike’s targets.

How big a deal was it for the linebacker to excel so much academically? His father flew up from San Diego to see his son's presentation at that May 2013 symposium. Dad walked through the hundreds of project posters at Mary Gates Hall wearing a Chargers hoodie -- and an unmistakably proud smile.

Tutogi and his teammates have had a mantra that they’ve put on locker-room signs and T-shirts for years now: FINISH! 

A 4.0 to end a college career?  That is finishing.


The other Husky to have a 4.0 last quarter?


Of course it was.

In March, the redshirt junior goalkeeper became the first Husky student-athlete in at least 20 years, and maybe ever, to win UW’s hallowed Presidential Medal for High Scholarship as its top student in her class. The native of Fremont, Calif., near Oakland didn’t exactly get her 4.0 this spring by taking Lawn Watching 101 or Paint Drying 202, either; Kufeld is a molecular-biology major.

She aced a class studying the dynamics of algae. She was all A’s in her molecular-lab research; she and a professor of pharmacology are studying how the altering of proteins changes the growth and development of cells inside a lab at UW’s Health Sciences Building near Husky Stadium.

“Theoretically, if my researcher was to be successful, she could find a cure for cancer in, like, 50 years,” Kufeld said.


Kufeld also aced her honors curriculum course on the environmental, societal and economic impacts of oil spills. That course opened Kufeld’s already-aware eyes to how complicated such spills – and most of life – can be.

Her goalkeeper coach, Amy Griffin, lovingly calls Kufeld: “The coolest nerd I’ve ever met.”

I teased Kufeld that this spring must have been her, oh, eighth consecutive term with a 4.0. She sounded embarrassed and shot back with a high-pitched protest.

“No!” she squawked. “I’ve only 4.0’d two quarters here!”

“What they don’t all realize when they get here – but find out as they grow here at UW – is that they care about more their sport. Like helping youth in our community.”

As we talked by phone Tuesday, this remarkable 21-year-old was just finishing her latest day coaching at UW’s youth soccer camp. Kufeld is working with girls aged five through nine this week at Husky Soccer Stadium. Next week, she’ll be on the same pitch practicing as a member of the Under-23 national women’s team, which Gallimore and Griffin will help train here at UW. Kufeld and her fellow Huskies upperclassmen are designing individual and team drills this week to direct the five freshmen teammates that just entered LEAP. Kufeld has been training for the last month with the Seattle Sounders’ women’s team. She’s also been soccer’s delegate to the Washington Student-Athletic Advisory Council (WSAAC).

As UW president Michael Young said to Kufeld in March, moments before he presented her with her president’s medal inside the stately Smith Room of Suzzallo Library: “How do you do it all?”

Kufeld, her mother Melinda (a category development manager for Safeway), her father Bob (a Stanford graduate and aeronautical engineer working on helicopters for NASA) and her brother Matthew all laughed at that one.

She had a 3.96 cumulative GPA then. And she just raised that. This fall the honorable mention All-Pac-12 keeper will be taking courses in biochemistry and genome research -- while again manning goal for the Huskies in a season that begins Aug. 22 at home against Kentucky.

Kufeld was in the LEAP program in the summer of 2011. She saw it as a wise way to break into college life more easily than in August and September, when freshmen also are moving in and beginning practices plus their full academic course load.

That’s not to say all these current freshmen in their first days of LEAP this week are destined to repeat Kufeld’s near-perfect academic record while playing at UW.

That is to say the newest Huskies are on the right path to achieving true success in college and, more important, in life. They are aware the numbers – the true, “real numbers” of college – are not in their favor to becoming a pro athlete.

“We always are mindful that don’t want to take away the dream. It’s OK for them to dream,” Bracken, the top-notch advisor, says.

“But we want them to think outside the dream.”

Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for the Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000. 

Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on each Wednesday.

Click here to visit Bell's Twitter page. 

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