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Georgia, Tech near bottom of BCS graduation rates
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ATHENS — Georgia and Georgia Tech were among only four schools from BCS conferences that failed to graduate at least half their football players, the NCAA said Tuesday in its latest report on the academic success of student athletes.

At both schools, just 48 percent of the football players who started classes from 1998-01 earned degrees within six years.

Oklahoma (46 percent) and Arizona (41 percent) were the only Bowl Championship Series schools to fare worse in the NCAA's annual report on Graduation Success Rates (GSR). Overall, teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision had a graduation rate of 67 percent.

Georgia fared even worse in men's basketball with a graduation rate of 23 percent for the four-year period — worst in the Southeastern Conference and 10th lowest among all Division I schools.

The only major-conference schools to come in below the Bulldogs were Maryland (10 percent) and Arizona (20 percent). The next-lowest SEC schools were Kentucky and Tennessee, both at 38 percent. At the other end of the scale were Florida (89 percent), Alabama (82 percent) and Vanderbilt (80 percent).

The Bulldogs did perform better in their other major sports, with GSR rates of 79 percent for women's basketball and 62 percent for baseball.

Athletic director Damon Evans noted that Georgia's football GSR improved from 41 percent a year ago, and should take another jump next year when the 1998 numbers are removed from the equation. Only 17 percent of the players in that class, signed by previous coach Jim Donnan, earned degrees within the six-year frame.

"Certainly we are not where we want to be, but I'm encouraged by the continued improvement of most of our sports in the GSR," Evans said. "I expect the football numbers to grow significantly beginning next year based on the number of graduates we've had in the last seven years."

Georgia officials said 122 football players have earned degrees since current coach Mark Richt took over in 2001 — 72 of them in the last three years. Evans also pointed to the school's improved performance in another NCAA report measuring academic progress, which he said "is a more accurate indicator of what our sports are doing now rather than seven or more years ago."

Despite his school's poor showing among the major football-playing schools, Georgia Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich said he was encouraged by the numbers.

"I think the one thing that is clear in our most recent report is that we are showing steady improvement with each year reported in this study," he said in a statement. "While we are still a good way from being where we need to be, I think our overall numbers reflect well in this very rigorous academic environment."

Actually, the school's GSR dipped in football from 51 percent a year ago. The Yellow Jackets performed better in the other major sports: 50 percent for men's basketball (up from 42 percent in 2007), 57 percent for baseball and 69 percent for women's basketball.

"I know our student athletes and coaches fully believe that academics is a No. 1 priority at Georgia Tech," Radakovich said. "We will use this report as a challenge for us to continue to move our graduation success rate in a positive direction with each passing year."

The newest NCAA graduation statistics were significantly higher than statistics compiled by the federal government, which do not include transfer students' performances. For example, if an athlete enrolls at one school, then transfers to another, neither school receives credit when that athlete graduates.

Georgia's federal graduation rate for football was 39 percent, while men's basketball was just 14 percent. At Georgia Tech, the numbers dip to 40 percent for football and 42 percent for basketball using the fed standard.

Savannah State, which plays in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision, had the lowest GSR of any Division I school in that sport, graduating a mere 30 percent for the four-year period. The Tigers were at 45 percent for men's basketball.

Georgia Southern had a 63 percent rate for football and 59 percent for men's basketball, while Georgia State was at 41 percent for men's hoops. The Panthers are starting a football program that will begin play in 2010.

Kennesaw State hasn't been a Division I member long enough to be included in the GSR report.

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