UNLV needs to be transparent about athletes’ grade problems


The fundamental values: Honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, courage.

This is how, especially in the face of adversity, the International Center for Academic Integrity states will better flow principles of behavior that enable communities to translate ideals into actions.

UNLV athletics faces its own academic predicament today in regards to its football program.

When explaining so publicly in the weeks and months to come, it should remind itself of those six values listed above.

With an emphasis on the honesty part.

Its behavior should produce transparency.

The roll call should go like this: University president. Athletic director. Head coach. Associate athletic director in charge of compliance.

Whenever the process runs its course with the NCAA and UNLV has a conclusion to the mess it finds itself in with regards to potentially falling short on the minimum academic standard to be eligible for a postseason bowl game, there should be no shortage of bodies explaining why and how this happened (or nearly did) in football and possibly other sports that appear in danger of not meeting mandated requirements.

Front and center. Each and every one.

These are the sorts of issues state universities should be out in front of when it comes to being straightforward with the public, and yet often seem to lag behind in the accountability department.

It’s a fluid process that finds itself now in a state of appeal. The Academic Progress Rate numbers don’t look good for UNLV, whose APR average over the last four academic years could lead to a multiple-season bowl ban.

It’s not over. Things have a way of being explained via appeal. Numbers have a way of changing. The Rebels might escape all penalties in football. But it’s bad enough that whatever momentum they gained by reaching their first bowl game in 13 years has taken a back seat to countless unanswered questions.

Whatever academic issues came with her office when being named the full-time athletic director in December, Tina Kunzer-Murphy now must shoulder the task of identifying the areas of failure and fixing them. She’s in charge now. This is on her watch.

In a campus culture where some say the marketing push to sell season tickets for the 2014 football season borders on obsessive — a marketing department that saw three of its employee resign last month — news that UNLV could be in hot water with the APR likely won’t cause many to run to the box office with checkbooks in hand.

Translation: It’s not difficult to figure out why UNLV would want this kept quiet in hopes of a favorable ending, or at least long enough to create a plausible explanation to those from whom it seeks financial support.

Meaning you. The taxpayers.

Bobby Hauck will enter a fourth season as head football coach come fall and it’s safe to assume that given the APR numbers to be released in June include academic years 2010 to this point, any insinuation that these are problems solely in regards to a previous coaching staff and the program he inherited should be both scoffed at and summarily denounced.

This is his team. His program. His players.

His responsibility.

His issue.

That he was given a three-year contract extension and hefty raise following last season, even when Kunzer-Murphy was aware of the APR issues within the program, is not astonishing.

Hauck’s team showed the sort of improvement on the field that warranted the university’s commitment to him for both continuity and recruiting sake, and firing him would have likely only led to player departures and, in turn, potentially worse APR numbers down the line for those athletes who might have left school not in good academic standing.

But that’s not to say Hauck shouldn’t be the first to explain the current state of his team when it comes to academics. Hauck is, for the most part, accessible. He just doesn’t say a whole lot about anything. On his best day, he tolerates media.

He can’t be that way now. Not with this. Not with academics. Not when you’re making $700,000 annually at a state university and are supposed to be your program’s chief steward of academic progress.

He needs to discover a voice here and use it.

I’m sure those in athletics will exhaust all available appeals to avoid APR penalties. I’m also certain the culture of academic support for athletes could be greatly improved at UNLV, where there is just one full-time advisor who is assisted by another in working with football. The men’s basketball team shares its academic advisor with baseball.

I’m thinking Alabama doesn’t have such shortage of personnel. I’m thinking Nick Saban might have an army of academic assistance for his football program.

But nobody wants to hear that now and it’s not something Kunzer-Murphy should point to when finally explaining what led to these issues. Other programs with the same non-Bowl Championship Series budgets such as UNLV — and some with even less money to spend — get the job done and have no APR problems.

This isn’t the first time UNLV football has found itself flirting with APR hell. In short, anything that comes close to UNLV offering excuses in this case should be instantly chastised as an insufficient response to a serious matter. Athletics needs to own this and create a comprehensive strategy moving forward to ensure a better, stronger, more successful academic culture for its student athletes.

The APR was put in place to aid in the NCAA’s goal for athletes to graduate with meaningful degrees while preparing them for life. It creates a level of responsibility for the university.

Whatever the outcome at UNLV — bowl ban, other stated penalties for low APR, escape with no sanctions at all — everyone of note should be present at roll call when a public explanation commences.

President. Athletic director. Head coach. Compliance.

Not casting blame elsewhere.

Not making excuses.

Rather, chartering a course for improvement. Exhibiting ideals of progress.

Being forthright, transparent, offering the one ideal that supposed leaders of academic integrity should always present: Honesty.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.