The Auburn Tigers may be ranked No. 1 in the BCS football rankings, but they are far from the top in academics. After a 2006 scandal, involving 18 members of the football team who received high grades as sociology majors for little or no work, the school has been working to improve its scholastic reputation. The school dropped from a No. 4 spot in the NCAA's four-year academic ranking, the Academic Progress Report, before the scandal to No. 85 this year among the 120 major college football programs.
Auburn's issues, faced by Florida State and Michigan since, illustrate what many universities have been struggling with for decades. As college sports have gained greater commercial appeal and new rules imposed by the NCAA can punish schools by reducing scholarships if athletes don't perform in the classroom, student athletes and athletic programs are faced with mounting stress.
To examine which schools have been most successful—and which have been the least—at adapting their student athletes to the accumulating pressures, The Daily Beast decided to look at the academic success of the largest, most competitive sports programs at universities across the country.
To rank the college teams according to academic records, we first limited our pool to only the universities in one of the six Division I BCS conferences (for a total of 66 schools) to consider the most competitive sports programs. For each institution, we referred to the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Academic Progress Rate (APR), a metric of academic eligibility and retention for student athletes that's designed to predict ultimate graduation rates.
To get a snapshot of the largest sports programs—and specifically student performance among those recruited in substantial measure for the their athletic abilities—we averaged the 2008-2009 APR scores (the most recent statistics available) for the football, men's basketball and women's basketball. Ties were broken according to each institution's multiyear APRs, which represent the APR scores from the preceding four seasons.