Calipari's squad's spring grades still worst of UK teams

jtipton@herald-leader.comMay 28, 2010 

Despite a slight improvement in classroom performance during the spring semester, the University of Kentucky men's basketball team still had the poorest grade-point average of all 20 teams sponsored by the school.

The team's spring semester GPA was 2.18, better than the 2.025 of the fall semester of 2009, but the lowest of all the school-sponsored teams for the second semester in a row, according to records released by UK in a partial response to open-records requests.

Men's tennis had the next lowest GPA with a 2.34 in the spring.

Thirteen of UK's 20 teams had grade-point averages of better than 3.0 in the spring semester, pushing the overall GPA of athletes to 3.04, the highest since Mitch Barnhart arrived as athletics director in 2002 and set 3.0 as an academic goal.

UK also fared poorly compared to other basketball programs. As of Thursday, four other Southeastern Conference schools provided the Herald-Leader with the spring GPAs of their men's basketball teams. All were better than UK: Florida at 2.96; Georgia at 2.54; Ole Miss at 2.50 and Auburn at 2.25.

Louisville's men's basketball team had a 3.02 team GPA.

In prepared statements, Barnhart and first-year UK coach John Calipari expressed qualified satisfaction, saying they were pleased the team scores had improved, and recognized the players had been through some difficult transitions.

In a news release earlier this week, UK implied that one or more of its players did not finish the semester. A "vast majority" of the players who entered the draft finished the spring semester, UK said.

UK denied the Herald-Leader's request for the individual grade-point averages of the men's basketball players. The school cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which is commonly known as the Buckley Amendment, a federal law enacted to protect students' private records.

However, UK had provided the individual grade-point averages for the men's basketball team for the fall semester of 2009.

One of UK's attorneys, T. Lynn Williamson, explained the inconsistency by saying the school had a policy of making public individual grade-point averages — without providing the names — once every few years for small groups of students in, for example, fraternities, clubs and athletic teams.

For any group of eight or fewer students, UK never makes public individual grade-point averages, Williamson said. The school fears that to regularly do so — even without names — could lead someone to identify which GPA belongs to a particular student or athlete.

Frank LoMonte, the executive director of The Student Press Law Center (a non-profit group specializing in open records law), was puzzled by how UK could make public the individual GPAs for one semester but not another.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense in that records that were public half a year ago suddenly cease to be public," he said. "That explanation doesn't entirely add up.

"As long as the individual identification information is removed from the documents, then the presumption is they're public record."

LoMonte acknowledged that the FERPA rules are subject to varying interpretations. In its exhaustive reporting on FERPA, The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch noted that schools have a wide latitude to interpret the rules.

"The law was so poorly written that it leaves far too much enforcement discretion to individual schools," LoMonte said. "Which naturally leaves open opportunities for abuse."

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