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AFCA Honors Ball State Football for Graduation Rate

BSULogoLet it not be said that Ball State football doesn’t put the “student” in student-athlete. Sure, other institutions may be competing for national championships and Bahamas Bowl berths, but some of those programs have athletes that I would assume probably wear Velcro shoes and can’t spell their team name correctly without looking at their sweatshirt. Not the case in Muncie, sports fans, as today the American Football Coaches Association honored your Ball State Cardinals for their graduation rate being over 90% for the football program.

Think that’s not impressive? You’re wrong. The Cardinals are one of only 13 teams in the country to achieve that kind of classroom success. To the Ball State release!

Ball State’s football program was recognized by the American Football Coaches Association as one of only 13 schools in the country to graduate at least 90 percent of its student-athletes in the latest NCAA Graduation Success Rate Report.

Of the 13 football playing Mid-American Conference schools, Ball State was one of only two to have a GSR score of at least 90 and is the only state school in Indiana to graduate over 90 percent of its 2007 class in the six years allowed for GSR purposes.

Among the football student-athletes including in this time frame for Ball State were Capital One Academic All-Americans Briggs Orsbon and Zane Fakes. Twenty-one of the Cardinals during this six year time frame were named to the MAC All-Academic team, while six were honored on the Capital One Academic All-District squad.

Congrats to the Cards and I hope someone put some of those good grade cards on the football office’s refrigerator.

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A Ball State Guide for Incoming Freshmen

Welcome to Funcie fresh meat, I mean freshmen.

Writer’s Note: This is not a sports column as I wanted to take a break from the usual to give some advice to those going to college. About 4,000 newcomers will soon descend upon Muncie and this is for them.

After I was approached in my church to give advice to some of the kids who are about to go to college I had an epiphany. Why not write a guide to incoming Ball State students on OTP?

I just graduated from Ball State two weeks ago in Worthen Arena. Alan, wanted me to bring the student voice to the blog, but I admit I am far from the typical Ball State student. I do not drink. That right there alienates me from 85 percent of the campus. I led a bible study, I watch “Star Trek,” and the wildest night I had was a pancake eating contest with my friends at the Daleville Denny’s. While college may be “American Pie” for some, for me it was closer to “The Big Bang Theory,” without Sheldon and less nerdy. Too bad Penny was not there either. There goes my street cred.

Jason Whitlock did his best a year ago for those in the party scene and hopefully I can balance that extreme out.

More than a job

The overwhelming opinion I hear for college is to get a job. If that is your attitude I am sorry. The majority of classes I took will have little impact on your future job. I wrote dozens upon dozens of essays from Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address to how women are portrayed in the media. Because of the latter I can no longer view scantily clad women on television commercials without thinking of the connotative meanings geared towards negative female stereotypes.  Thanks for nothing COMM 412.

College is more about discovering your interests then it is about getting a job. Do not be that guy who graduates only to hate the job he spent four years preparing for. If you want a job go to trade school. If you want an education go to Ball State.

Ditch the ego

The odds are low of you being the big fish that you were in high school at Ball State. More than likely there will always be someone funnier, smarter, cooler, and stronger than you. For the girls who considered themselves the prettiest in high school, keep in mind most women coming to Muncie feel the same way about themselves. Then again do women actually read a Ball State football blog? High school is a time where we compare ourselves based on clothes, prom dates, cars, etc. No one cares about that junk in college. Who you were in high school no longer matters at Ball State. The quicker you come to terms with this the quicker you will adapt to campus.

Explore the area

Ball State students have a bad reputation among Muncie natives for many reasons but the biggest one is not giving a crap about the area. When told fellow students I was going to a church in Yorktown they gave me confused looks as they fail to even name the town next door. I was fortunate to build connections in Gaston and Yorktown and those added greatly to my college experience.

Exploring Muncie takes effort as driving up and down McGalliard does not count. That would be like saying you have been to Atlanta because the plane stopped at the airport on its way to Florida. Some parts of Muncie are rough like the Southside is known for a strip club, a closed Borg Warner plant, and a large Walmart. Yikes. On the bright side there are several nice parks along the White River so take advantage of them. When it gets cold hit as many restaurants as you can.

Muncie will become your home for four years so the more you do to make it feel like a home the better off you will be.

Get involved

I must stress the importance of getting involved on campus. For me it was a couple of Christian groups and the Ball State Daily News. Extracurricular organizations are in many ways more important than classes as this is where field experience is possible. It is easier to build relationships in those places too. There is no shortage of lazy students who do nothing but video games and Facebook. When the poor grades hit they complain about the professor or the major. We all know those students. Do not be that student.

Give yourself free time

At the same time though do not overload yourself. I was stunned at how many students are constantly busy. I knew some students who would work one or even two jobs, while taking 18 credit hours with other activities. Yet they would find time to run 10 miles every morning even in the snowy winter.

Flexibility can go a long way at Ball State. Free time is to students what cap space is to pro sports teams. Taking on bad player contracts can make life miserable. If you have a full schedule in college what is it going to be like when you become a parent? It feels like there is no middle ground between the students who are overworked and students who are just getting by. If you can find that balance you are doing an amazing job.

Take some chances

Senior year I applied for an unpaid internship with Feed My Sheep, a Thanksgiving Food Drive in Muncie. Not knowing what to expect it turned out to be one of the best things I did in college and led to what might be the most awkward photos President Gora has ever been in.

She makes more cash in a year than the President Obama but how much would she have paid to not have this pic on the Internet?

Another chance on a smaller scale was when I wrote a paper on non-BCS college athletic budgets. Our professor wanted us to have our papers publish so I e-mailed it to Alan as it somehow went to his junk mail. He found it weeks later as it became this leading to whatever this puppy is now.

In retrospect I could have taken more chances at Ball State. Could have applied to more internships and joined more clubs, but that goes back to the free time argument. I am happy with how things turned out and I am sure those who take risks will have success too.

Adversity will strike

For many students, college is the first time where trouble will hit. Whether it is grades, family trouble, relationship drama, or money problems, adversity will come eventually. Sophomore year was a bit of train wreck for me, yet I know dozens of kids who went through worse.

I wish I could say more other than be prepared for it. More importantly have some solid friends you can lean on. Isolating yourself when things are tough is the dumbest choice one can make.

Be smart about the drama

It is shocking how a break-up can cause a person to flunk out of school. Approach these situations knowing you are only 18-22 and being single is not the end the world.

Most importantly: CHOOSE YOUR FRIENDS WISELY!

You become who you hang out with. Hang out with people who hate going to class and you will hate going to class too. Hang out with people who sleeps with anything that breathes and chances are you might too. It is not always the case but your friends will have an impact on your day-to-day activities. Making friends in college is different from high school where your friends are people who you grew up with or play on the same varsity team. For college, all that matters is that you developed some kind of support system with people you trust. Your Ball State friends do become a family. For me it was a fantasy football league family but whatever works for you. There goes more street cred.

Would tell more but it is best that you figure some stuff on your own. Time to get back to sports.

Meeting Pete Lembo

You can now say you read the bog post of the blogger who shook the hand of Pete Lembo.

I can finally say I have met Pete Lembo and he at least knows I exist.

I attended Lembo’s community forum at the E.B. and Bertha C. Ball Center in beautiful Minnetrista Friday morning. It was awkward at first as I saw less than 10 people there on arrival. This was open to everyone in Muncie to meet and greet Pete Lembo and only 10 people showed. To make things worse I was the only student. Every Ball State student got the same e-mail invitation I had and one out of 20,000 made it. I clearly stood out like a sore thumb in a room full of tenured faculty.

We shook hands and I told him I was with Over the Pylon, which may not have been the best idea as he expected no media to be there.

Sadly, I did not take a picture with him, or record the conversation as it was such an intimate setting I did not want to be the jerk that placed a recorder on a table.

What impressed me most was Lembo’s public speaking ability. He spoke for an hour while taking questions in the latter half. Not once did he look down for notes, or say any cliché “coach speak.” Even with all the talking I am fairly sure he did not even take a sip of the water on his podium until 50 minutes into it. If only there was stat sheet for something like that. Standing behind a podium he was more like a politician than a coach.

As a Georgetown graduate, Lembo explained how all four of his college roommates went on to become lawyers (tragically, one passed away in a car accident eight years ago). While his college buddies were making bank, Lembo was slowly rising through the college ranks. Needless to say, assistant coaches at tiny colleges do not make much money. Lembo says he did not even have health insurance while his friends were establishing successful law firms purchasing luxury cars. I am sure Lembo has caught up to his peers in recent years.

Lembo spoke extensively about his time at Lehigh University as he learned to cope with limited resources. The school’s shoestring budget makes Ball State look like Michigan.

Bringing alums to talk about life after football was another factor Lembo emphasized. Lembo says having several former Ball State players talk about the difficulties of making a transition to life after football came across as a wake-up call to his players.

When football coaches say they value academics, it is difficult to tell how genuine they truly are. With Lembo I was buying every word. No one leaves Georgetown thinking grades are meaningless. That was tough for me to say as I hate Georgetown and Google “Ronny Thompson and family” to learn why. Lembo’s history of coaching smaller schools that rarely have NFL talent brings more emphasis on a degree than a pro career.

Another notable was recruiting philosophy. Lembo wants to recruit locally but also in southern states like the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida because of networking he made at Elon. We can assume that schools like Clemson and South Florida will become norms on Ball State’s schedule.

Lembo says he does not have many hobbies. He is a bit of a World War I and World War II historian. I guess nothing speaks to the American male quite like college football and shooting Nazis.

I left the forum wanting to quote Denzel Washington from the “Manchurian Candidate” saying, “Pete Lembo is probably the kindest, bravest, warmest, most selfless human being I’ve ever known.”

Okay I did not go that far. This was not a brain washing session.

The fact is Lembo, has been open with the Muncie community and worked hard reestablish relations with alumni. So far, the assistant coaches he has hired have paid off well. Players have bought into the system and wins came in 2011. What more do you want the man to do?

I did have some questions after the forum. If Lembo is so good how was Ball State able to get him? Was Tom Collins lucky to find the right man for the job? Read that last sentence again and tell me if that is a believable statement. Then again why am I paranoid like Richard Nixon in 1972 right now? I can think of two scenarios.

1. Tom Collins found a hidden gem in the coaching ranks. As a Ball State fan it is tough to give Collins credit for much of anything but credit is due.

2. Other FBS schools discarded Lembo for some unknown reason. The fact that closer Sun Belt and Conference USA schools failed to make an effort before Ball State appears either as incompetent or troubling. Did those schools see red flags Ball State did not?

In the meantime Ball State fans have something to look forward to in the 2012 season.

For the future, every time Lembo appears on ESPN, I can say “I know that guy.” Even better I have a new reason to watch the “Manchurian Candidate” and play World War II video games.

Big Weekend for Ball State Volleyball and the MAC

Ball State Men’s Volleyball Upsets No. 10 Ohio State

Ball State snapped an 11-match losing streak to Ohio State Sunday winning 3-2 (21-25, 25-23, 23-25, 25-23, 15-12) in one of the best performances I have seen in person as a Ball State fan.

The win meant clearing a mental hurdle for Ball State. Hopefully, Ball State can get back to winning MIVA championships in the future. Ohio State can no longer claim Muncie as a second residence and that is a start.

Whenever Ball State takes one from the juggernaut from Columbus it is time to celebrate.

What is shocking is this Ball State team only has one senior on the roster and were still able to win. Even more shocking is Ball State gave away the first and third sets as it had chances in both. This match did not have to go five sets.

The fact is men’s volleyball games are typically more exciting to the student body than basketball and football games in my four years here.

The men’s volleyball team has the ability to compete for national championships (few schools have a team) if adequately funded.  Coach Joel Walton has had to build a team with a meager amount of scholarships in the past. Tom Collins has increased the team’s budget in recent years but it could be a moot point when the new athletic director comes in.

President Gora has a huge decision ahead of her. She could find an athletic director that is all about football and let the other sports fight for themselves. Or she could hire one who is dedicated to the “Olympic” sports. Mid-majors like Ball State do not have the resources to go all out in both.

Personally, I want the latter. The geography favors Ball State in both basketball  and volleyball.  Muncie is the volleyball capital of the Midwest and the state is loaded with great basketball players. Indiana is weaker than Ohio and Michigan in terms of high school football talent.

Given the chance, the men’s and women’s volleyball programs can do some special things. I hope the new athletic director is more than accommodating to those programs.

Billy Taylor is Back

Collins made it clear that Billy Taylor will be returning as men’s basketball coach next season. In other news women’s basketball coach Kelly Packard bit her last fingernail as no word has come down on her future.  The fingernail part is a joke but why say one coach is back without mentioning the other?

Here is a quote from Collins in the news release.

“When we hired Coach Taylor we knew we were in for a major rebuilding project in regards to our men’s basketball program. When he became our coach prior to the 2007 season, we had to address many concerns within the program.  There were on-court issues, academic issues, APR and compliance concerns.  In addition, we had severe community and public relations issues.  Coach Taylor and his staff have done an outstanding job and worked tirelessly to improve our program in many areas.  Although, we were all disappointed with the 2011-12 season, it will not deter us from reaching all of our goals with the program and with its place in Ball State University’s mission.”

There is enough spin in that paragraph to make Bill O’Reilly sick. We do not know how much impact of having a lame duck athletic director had to do with this but given the flimsy “APR” defense we know it had quite a bit. Nothing inspires fan support and sells tickets like good APR scores.

Nice smile Billy. That is more emotion than what we see in some of your games.

The new argument for Ball State having a chance next season in the Muncie Star Press is the quantity of 3-point shooters. Ball State had plenty of 3-point shooters this past year so it is not an argument that makes a great deal of sense.

Ball State needs guard Juwan Scaife back to his former self. Once Taylor benched him in favor of other guards he became frustrated. If Scaife is not a key part of the offense and fails to take the role as senior leader the season will be get away from Ball State quick.

Ohio Advances to the Sweet Sixteen

With Ohio showing up Big Ten and Big East teams I hope the days of the MAC champion getting a 13 seed or worse are over.  Akron was a 15 last year and Ohio was a 14 two years ago.

MAC fans know the conference is better than that as the rest of the country is discovering. Akron was not even seen as bubble team this year. We will see a MAC school get an at-large bid to the big dance sometime this decade. Maybe Ball State will be that team with their amazing 3-point shooting next year.

While we are at it maybe Newt Gingrich will be president.

Cards Close ’11 on High Note in Classroom

Way to go in the classroom, Cards

As the final week of 2011 winds itself down, I would think that most Cardinals fans are geeked beyond belief at the way the season went. While the Cardinals didn’t go bowling, the on-field successes of this year’s edition of the BSU football squad was not only unexpected by many, it could also prove to be a turning point for the football program should the successes continue. This particular season could lay not only the groundwork for the Lembo era and subsequent career in Muncie and beyond but perhaps be the turning point for Tom Collins era in Muncie as well. I would say no other MAC athletic director has suffered more direct and scathing criticism from the fanbase than Collins over his tenure, so to see him land the right hire and reduce the vocal majority’s yelling to no more than a murmur has been refreshing.

In addition to the on-field successes, the Cards put up a fair share of success in the classroom as well. From Coach Lembo’s most recent newsletter, the academic prowess for the Cards was exemplary in this fall 2011 semester, with four Cards achieving 4.0 GPAs. Having never gotten a 4.0 myself in college (I can’t speak for Edge or RV) I am keenly aware of how difficult that is. To be able to hit that mark while going through the schedule and work for FBS football is amazing. 34 Cards ended up with a 3.0 or better, and while not the gold star that a 4.0 is, hitting that mark with the rigors of football is impressive.

It isn’t all sunshine and roses for the Cardinals though, as Coach Lembo references there are more than a few that need to pick it up academically to continue to be able to play. As he puts it there are a “handful of players did not reach their potential and will have to put forth a much greater effort this spring in the classroom in order to be in good standing.” Whether that “handful” is a couple or a couple dozen isn’t known, but I’d say it’s much more likely to be on the low end of that scale.

Perhaps most ominous in his most recent newsletter was the strangely cryptic, “Only one freshman is in jeopardy of not returning for the spring due to his academic results from the fall semester.” Hopefully that won’t be an issue and things will get themselves corrected via finals and final grades. It’s troubling that that seems more about being able to remain in school as opposed to being able to play football, and that’s a far more serious issue as well as a significantly steeper hill to climb. Worst case scenario and this doesn’t work itself out by spring session and I doubt there will be any official release or news about it. Eventually we’ll just notice that Player X (or Player F as the case may be) isn’t on the roster anymore and that will be a shame. Academic issues and retention or some of the most pressing issues facing higher education today, doubly so in the athletic realm. To lose a member of the squad for academic issues in the face of the various systems of support in place is just sad.

Ball State’s Acadmic Progress Report

In the latest Academic Progress Rate Report issued by the NCAA, Ball State University student-athletes in 18 of the school’s 19 intercollegiate athletic programs graded out better than the necessary 925 score, and 11 of the sports programs were at or above the national average for all NCAA Division I institutions.

The APR data submitted by schools across the country is for the 2004-05, 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08 academic years. The data is a four-year average, and any score below 925 is subject to penalties from the NCAA.

Ball State’s men’s basketball program scored an 873 on the APR and as a result will be limited to awarding 11 athletic scholarship renewals for the 2009-10 academic year.

“The Ball State athletics program has a rich tradition in excelling in academics and athletics,” Ball State athletics director Tom Collins says. “We have consistently been among the highest rated institutions in the Mid-American Conference in regards to APR and graduation rates. Our men’s basketball program from the 2004 to 2007 seasons underwent some coaching changes and a number of student-athletes transferred for a variety of reasons, causing the team’s APR to fall below the required 925 score. Our current coaching staff has stabilized the program, and as always, academics is a top priority. We are excited about the academic success of our student-athletes and look forward to improvement among the men’s basketball team as we move forward in 2009-10.”

In 2007-08, Ball State’s 420 student-athletes tallied a 3.024 cumulative grade-point average on the school’s 4.0 scale and finished second among the Mid-American Conference’s 13 schools for the league’s Academic Achievement Award. Since the 1973-74 season, Ball State student-athletes have garnered ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America honors 93 times, which ranks 23rd in the nation among all schools in the history of the Academic All-America program, which is conducted by the College Sports Information Directors of America.

“Our coaching staff has laid a strong foundation for our program over the past two years rooted in four traits – character, commitment, mental toughness and dedication,” Ball State head men’s basketball coach Billy Taylor says. “We have made great strides both on and off the court having graduated all four seniors this year and having all five freshmen honored at the President’s 3.0 Scholar-Athlete Luncheon. We are focused on our future and will continue to develop quality young men throughout our program.”

Below are the scores of all 19 of Ball State’s intercollegiate athletics programs along with the national average for all NCAA Division I institutions:

BSU Team – (Nat. Avg.) – Team APR Score
Women’s Gymnastics – (983)- * 995
Men’s Golf – (963) – * 994
Women’s Basketball – (962) – * 990
Women’s Swimming – (979) – * 990
Men’s Tennis – (964) – * 987
Men’s Swimming – (967) – * 987
Women’s Soccer – (973) – * 986
Women’s Indoor Track – (965) – * 982
Women’s Outdoor Track – (966) – * 982
Field Hockey – (985) – 978
Women’s Golf – (976) – * 976
Women’s Cross Country – (971) – * 975
Women’s Volleyball – (972) – * 974
Men’s Volleyball – (971) – * 972
Softball – (968) – 962
Women’s Tennis – (974) – 961
Football – (939) – * 944
Baseball – (946) – 939
Men’s Basketball – (933) – 873
* Denotes team score higher than the national average

So what’s this all tell us? For starters, it tells us that Ronnie Thompson continues to give little parting gifts to the Cardinals, this time in the form of two lost scholarships. Ones that can be returned pending improvement in the basketball APR. Thankfully, mercifully, this appears to be the last little remnant of the Thompson administration, and thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.