In the hours after the football coach at the instate rival school labeled Arizona State University a “junior college,” the dialogue in Jean Boyd’s office could have included a five-second tape delay for bleeping purposes.
“A lot of the things that went through my mind, I can’t repeat,” said Boyd, ASU’s associate athletic director for student-athlete development
Boyd need not have worried about a response to Arizona’s Mike Stoops, who made his comment on national signing day in February.
ASU’s media relations arms completed the job swiftly and thoroughly, bombarding media with e-mails touting the school’s academic successes, in general and among athletes.
Many of the achievements in the latter are due in part to the work done by the student-athlete development office, an outfit that ASU officials believe is as cutting edge as any in the nation.
“It’s the best I’ve been around, and I’ve seen a lot of good programs,” football coach Dennis Erickson said. “Jean and the people that work for him are second to none. Whether it’s tutoring, our study halls, or making sure athletes have what they need to qualify and graduate, that office gives them what they need. And that staff makes sure the kids stay on top of things.”
An ASU defensive back from 1991-93, Boyd oversees a full-time staff of 10. He helped develop the Scholar Baller program that started at ASU in 2001 and is being used by about 30 other institutions around the country.
“He’s exceptional at what he does, primarily because as a former football player, he understands the demands on our kids,” athletic director Lisa Love said. “You look at the numbers — grade-point averages, graduation rates, (NCAA) report numbers and so on — and you see that his office is changing the culture for our student-athletes here for the better.”
In 2007, 19 of ASU’s 22 varsity teams had multi-year academic progress rate scores of at least 925, the mandated minimum by the NCAA. The school received no penalties resulting from APR scores, which measure current academic performance.
During the 2006-07 school year, the football team was second in the Pac-10 (behind Stanford) with a 67 percent graduation rate. Also that year, ASU trailed only Stanford in Academic All-Pac-10 selections in all sports, with 138.
“Sports is the biggest part of the equation, let’s face it,” said Erickson, whose team begins spring drills on Tuesday. “But parents want to see their son or daughter graduate. When they see the program and the resources that we have in place for their kids, they like that.
“When parents come in for recruiting visits, Jean and his staff are there, talking to them about academics.”
Boyd, who faced challenges as a youth while growing up in a gang-ridden area of Los Angeles, founded the Scholar Baller program with Clifford Parks and Keith Harrison, a former junior-college teammate and coach.
ASU football players with a grade point average of 3.0 or better receive the Scholar Baller distinction, replete with a patch on their jerseys.
“Baller” is urban slang for someone who excels.
“The idea was to take language connects with kids and fuse it with something (studies) that they might not have a big interest in,” Boyd said. “But if it’s part of a ‘baller’ name that is a (sign of respect), that can be something that players embrace and make it more of their identity.”
Perhaps his office’s most vital duty, Boyd said, is identifying at-risk students as early as the recruiting process. As a result, ASU can provide such athletes with an academic plan — to qualify for college and graduate.
Jarrell Barbour, a star receiver from Peoria Centennial High, was one of three players in the 2007 recruiting class to rescind a verbal commitment to Arizona to sign a letter of intent with ASU. Barbour said that ASU had a “better plan” to get him into school.
Of about 140 football players entering ASU from 2002-07, just three failed to qualify academically.
“You go through the filtering process, look at test scores, see if there is a learning disability, then line up with tutors and academic mentors to help them be organized,” Boyd said. “We try to apply the proper support right away.
“If you take the first three or four weeks of a semester to assess where a kid is, he might be already failing a class or two by the time you get him the support he needs.”
ASU safety Troy Nolan was an at-risk student upon transferring from College of the Canyons in Santa Clara, Calif., in the spring of 2006.
“I needed help making sure I could get into school, and I struggled when I first got here,” Nolan said. “The development staff was there with me every day to help me get through it.”
Nolan graduates in May with a degree in interdisciplinary studies. He will play as a graduate student this fall while pursuing of a master’s degree in justice studies.
“Without the help I got, I don’t know where I’d be right now.” Nolan said.