Column: Taggart taking steps to improve FSU’s APR

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The headline is alarming – Worst APR in Power 5 – and it underscores years of academic concerns left behind by Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher.

But the numbers don’t say much about a solution or what FSU is doing to improve, a tone that has been set by coach Willie Taggart and administration.

Academic Progress Rate is a complex valuation designed by the NCAA to evaluate how well a college program is graduating athletes within a six-year window. FSU football’s number of 922 (on a 1,000 scale) for the 2017-18 academics year is what caught many fans’ attention.

The NCAA takes into account a four-year rolling average, and FSU football is at 936. That’s the lowest in the ACC by a good margin and last among Power 5 schools. If the average dips below 930, FSU would face a postseason ban.

Going by the four-year rolling average, FSU has seen a steady decline: from 958 in 2012-13 to now 936.

What has Taggart done to improve in this area? He’s preached accountability and has ensured that players go to class – if one misses a class, then his entire group is punished. Holding practice in the morning has likely helped in this area as players can’t sleep through an 8 a.m. class. Now players have early morning meetings and practices before having lunch and taking afternoon classes.

“We have to get right in the classroom,” Taggart said in August. “Our team goal is a 3.0 GPA. I will say it’s been by far our best semester we had here, I think since 2000. Credit to our guys and to their work and doing the things that they’re supposed to. And they know, we’re not done yet.”

Attendance and study hall has been emphasized by Taggart and assistants, who often follow up in person to see if a player is in class.

There are signs that the 2018-19 APR will be better for football as 29 players had their best semester academically this spring, according to FSU administrators (that’s more than a third of the roster). And 24 players had a 3.0 GPA or higher, and on Friday Taggart went to Twitter to recognize those players. 

Taggart is also pushing some players to graduate before they move on. Two recent examples are Deondre Francois and George Campbell, both of which earned their degrees in May and intend to transfer. But the introduction of the NCAA Transfer Portal, which may allow players to leave school earlier without a degree is a problem that schools like FSU and others around the nation will have to adapt.

Is the APR cause for concern at FSU? Yes. The overall declining numbers illustrate a trend that is startling. But Taggart and FSU administration appear to be changing the course, a positive development that should not be ignored. This isn’t a problem that Taggart can fix in one year but it’s clear that he’s taking steps in the right direction.

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