In many cases, Vanderbilt’s high academic standards are a barrier between the Commodores and gridiron success. Tough admissions standards and difficult classwork can weed out interested prospects, giving head coach Derek Mason an obstacle -- and an opportunity -- on the recruiting trail.
Those standards mean Mason has to bring some of the nation’s top students into the program. On Wednesday, that hard work paid off. The NCAA announced Vanderbilt had one of the Football Bowl Subdivision’s top four scores on its annual Academic Progress Rate (APR).
The APR is a measure of how many student-athletes on a given team are both still in school and on pace to graduate. A student gets one point for attending class and another for remaining academically eligible. Those points are totaled up by team, then divided by total points possible, and then finally multiplied by 1,000 to create a final score.
Vanderbilt football’s score of 992 means 99.2 percent of its players are students in good standing. That mark was tied with Minnesota and Duke for fourth in the country. Only Northwestern, Air Force, and Michigan performed better. The closest SEC comparison was a tie between Auburn, Alabama, and Florida at 980.
2016 NCAA APR Scores, FBS Top 25
Having a high APR score isn’t just something of which we can be immensely proud. The NCAA rewards programs with high academic performance when it comes to the postseason. With more bowl slots available than eligible teams, the institution awards bids to five-win teams based on their APR scores. This almost came into play in 2016, where a five-win Vandy team would have snuck into a lower-tier bowl. Instead, Mason removed all drama by beating Tennessee by 11 points and notching the biggest win of his head coaching career.
This academic triumph gives Mason some wiggle room should his team regress this fall. While the loss of All-American linebacker Zach Cunningham and All-SEC left tackle Will Holden will be difficult to overcome, an improving offense and stout defense will hopefully make this NCAA leeway unnecessary.
Last fall, Vanderbilt made strides to return to the postseason after a slow rebuild in Nashville. Wednesday’s released APR scores show this success isn’t just limited to the field.