- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Maryland Terrapins lost much of their hope for this basketball season after leading scorer Chris McCray was declared academically ineligible Monday.

But if the Terps fail on the court because of McCray’s troubles in the classroom, it won’t be because of a lack of help from the university’s athletic department.

The department provides players with tutors, academic counselors, study halls and a large budget to support players’ studies. There are two academic labs at Maryland for athletes. The academic support staff has a budget of $1.2 million, the largest in the 12-school Atlantic Coast Conference, according to the university.

Coach Gary Williams said yesterday that though the school offers help and monitors players’ academic progress, the ultimate responsibility for staying eligible rests with the player.

“Part of going to college, you want people to accept more responsibility,” Williams said. “If we wake a player up in the morning and get him to go to class, are we helping him? If we don’t get him to class, then it’s on me because he didn’t get to class. There’s a fine line there a lot of times on how much you should be doing.”

Players rarely are placed on academic probation during the middle of the season, and it was a first for Williams in his 17 seasons at College Park.

Anton Goff, the assistant athletic director for academic support and career development, oversees a staff of 14 full-time employees and two graduate assistants. Athletes are required to meet with counselors once every other week. Tutoring is available, and an intensive learning program exists for students who need one-on-one attention.

Maryland also requires all freshmen to attend study hall during their first semester. Athletes can earn their way out of the mandatory session by maintaining a 2.3 grade-point average.

The basketball team has its own counselor, and Mr. Goff estimates 75 percent of the team works with learning specialists, tutors and mentors who reinforce organizational, time management and study skills. Those meetings occur after nearly every practice.

“They have one person for 12 or 13 people,” said Mr. Goff, who served as a basketball team counselor during his first stint at Maryland in the late 1990s. “That counselor also travels with them on the road. We hold study tables for them to make sure they’re getting some studying done on the road.”

McCray, a criminal justice major, was declared ineligible for failing to meet NCAA guidelines, though Maryland, citing federal privacy laws, declined to reveal specifics about his academic record.

The NCAA requires a 1.8 grade-point average after an athlete’s first year in school, a 1.9 after his second and a 2.0 after any subsequent season. It also requires athletes to complete a certain number of credit hours each semester and year.

There are limited options available to coaches to handle players who fail to meet their academic obligations.

“They can hold them out of practice and games,” said Athletic Director Debbie Yow, a former women’s basketball coach at Florida and Kentucky. “I’ve been a coach. Sometimes the only thing that is effective is missing a practice or missing a game.”

McCray won’t play again. As a senior, he is out of eligibility at the end of the season. He averaged a team-high 15.2 points for Maryland, which is 13-4 (3-2 in the ACC) entering tonight’s game at Georgia Tech.

The loss of their best player could significantly hurt the Terps, who appeared to be on their way to an NCAA tournament berth but instead could wind up in the less prestigious National Invitation Tournament for the second straight year.

Mr. Goff said it is ultimately the responsibility of the athlete to do what students are supposed to do: study.

“Even with all the support we have, all of our students have to attend class, study outside of here and take some ownership of their academics,” he said.

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