As far as Roman Banks and Trayvean Scott are concerned, Southern’s student-athletes — as a collective group — earned a championship in the fall semester.
Southern’s 290 athletes achieved a cumulative 3.05 grade point average in the fall semester, a number that was bolstered by more than half of the total athletes at Southern turning in a 3.0 or better GPA. More than 40 percent landed on the honor roll.
“In a word, if you sum it up, it means everything,” said Scott, Southern’s executive associate athletic director. “From a recruiting standpoint, from a standpoint of being competitive, from a standpoint of being viable as a member of a Division I institution, it means everything.”
Said Banks, Southern’s athletic director, “Those are championship numbers. We like the direction we are heading in. It put us back in the game.”
This is the most notable sign that Southern is about to pull out of the academic mire in which it has been languishing for the last several years.
Southern has been hit with postseason bans and scholarship reductions from the NCAA after continued issues stemming from the academic side.
“You can go back and trace it — we were never really out of harm’s way with APR (Academic Progress Rate) in the last four or five years,” Scott said. “It just felt like we were going from issue to issue, one to the other.”
By taking this step academically to pull itself out of trouble, Banks said, Southern cleared “a major hurdle as it relates to recruiting and the imagery of the university” while also paving the way for coaches to receive full scholarship numbers and “operate a functional club.”
Getting to this point required every department at Southern to pull in the same direction.
Banks likened himself to the head chef, getting everyone to work in unison in order to accomplish a common goal.
“There’s a requirement from all facets,” Banks said, “and I don’t think a lot of people at our university understood that.”
Southern’s administration committed to Banks by allocating funds to be used for training and certifying people in departments across campus, educating them on the basics that would allow Southern’s athletics department to get out of its academic hole.
Scott said Banks empowered him to get Southern turned around in the most efficient way he saw how. That started with educating the educators.
“The first year we were more focused on policies, procedures and rules education, just so everyone would have an understanding of what we were doing,” Scott said.
“We had to effectively educate not only ourselves, but our campus — our leadership, our board, our president, our provost, our registrar, our financial aid folks. We had to hone in on the educational aspect of what it meant to be a steward of APR.”
Southern was in such a bad position when Banks took over as the interim athletic director that it did not meet several basic requirements to apply for grants, Scott said.
It has slowly gotten out of that point, and in August received a nearly $1 million grant from the NCAA Accelerating Academic Success Program.
The goal of all this is to get Southern back to the point where every program is able to fill its roster with the full complement of scholarship players and for every program to compete in the postseason if it is deserving.
“Our goal is to consistently have all our teams eligible, out of postseason penalty, out of scholarship restrictions and being able to give our coaches a fair shake and a level playing field,” said Scott.
That requires sustained success like last semester, Banks said.
“We believe in being true champions,” Banks said. “You have to be a champion in the classroom to have a chance to be a champion in your sport.”