The University of Southern Mississippi continues to rank among the nation’s top football programs when it comes to graduation success.
A study published in the Boston Globe in July showed that Southern Miss ranked ninth in graduation rates for black and white players among the 68 teams that reached postseason bowl games in 2008. The Globe compiled its Top-10 ranking based upon teams that sported at least a 50 percent graduation rate with racial gaps of less than 15 percentage points.
According to statistics provided by the NCAA, Southern Miss had an 82 percent graduation rate for white players and 79 percent for black players. Navy led the way with rates of 98 and 93 percent respectively. Schools ranked second through eighth included Notre Dame, Northwestern, Boston College, Vanderbilt, Air Force, Connecticut and Wake Forest. Troy came in at No. 10 in the rankings.
The report covered student-athletes who entered as freshmen in 1998-99, 1999-00, 2000-01 and 2001-02. Each athlete had six years to graduate.
Stacy Breazeale, director of academics in the Southern Miss Athletic Department, said Golden Eagle football players are educated on equal footing.
“What I would have to say specifically is that all of our players get the same service,” said Breazeale. “We have the same expectations for all of them without regard to race or gender. Well tell them from the very beginning that you’re going to graduate.”
Larry Fedora, entering his second season as Southern Miss head football coach, credits teamwork for the Golden Eagles’ success in the classroom.
“I’m extremely proud of the graduation rates for our players,” he said. “It takes a lot of hard work on their part and that of our academic enhancement department. Plus, we’ve got tremendous professors at this university who take a sincere interest in each student-athlete’s life.”
The Globe’s report found that some teams had graduation rates for black players as low as 29 percent and some racial gaps as high as 40 percentage points.
Breazeale said numbers as alarming as those would dictate a shift in department strategy.
“We absolutely keep a close watch on our numbers to make sure the programs we have in place are working,” she said. “We all love athletics here at Southern Miss, but we’re also big supporters of what comes after that. There’s a reason student comes first in the term: student-athlete.”
Fedora said the university’s graduation rates can not be underestimated as a recruiting tool.
“The numbers don’t lie. Our graduation rates are a big selling point for us,” he said. “We can walk into a recruit’s home and tell his parents, ‘your son is going to walk away from here with a degree.’
“I’ll put us up against any other school in the Southeast when it comes to making that claim.”
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.