Stay in school, kids. It pays to have good grades.
Or, at the very least, it can get you a trip to south Florida in late December, which is also good.
That’s why Mississippi State’s football team, despite its 5-7 record in 2016, is playing in the St. Petersbug Bowl in sunny St. Pete, Florida on December 26. Those following MSU are likely aware by this point not just of the bowl destination itself, but the fact that MSU has the opportunity to go because it had one of the top APR scores in the country, second-highest among five-win teams and third behind 6-6 Army selected under the same criteria.
APR, which stands for Academic Progress Rate, is basically how the NCAA measures graduation rates for its schools and student-athletes. Basically, the more players schools sign that end up graduating and staying in school with a healthy GPA, the better the APR score.
In this endeavor, MSU’s football program has succeeded greatly in the last eight years under head coach Dan Mullen, as not only have the overwhelming majority of his signees earned their degrees, but an impressive number have graduated early and many have even earned Masters degrees in their field of choice. In fact, over half a dozen of Mullen’s players will graduate between now and the date of bowl.
The week leading up to MSU’s Egg Bowl win, when the Bulldogs still sat at four wins, Mullen knew the team would be in good position if they could pull off the rivalry win, thanks to years of dedication to academics as a priority.
“I think it’s a tremendous credit to Coach Mullen,” MSU Athletic Director John Cohen said Sunday after the selection was announced. “Obviously, all of our folks in academic support do a great job, and our compliance people do a great job. All of that has to work in concert, and the most important thing is you’ve got to get the right kids who believe in progressing toward a degree and who want to get a college degree. All that has to happen. Coach Mullen has recruited the right kids and they have the right support staff.”
Cohen, recently named to his new position as Athletic Director, has shown a similar dedication to the academic side of being a student-athlete. As head coach of MSU’s baseball team, his program set and then broke many records for team GPA under his watch. A former student-athlete himself (who earned both undergraduate and post-graduate degrees, to boot), Cohen entered the coaching world and now enters the administrative world as someone with both an appreciation and understanding for the demands put on student-athletes and the fact that most of them will, as they say, go pro in something other than sports.
“We want all of our kids to have opportunities in their sports, and we want them to have tremendous opportunities outside their sport,” Cohen said. “You’re not going to have tremendous opportunities unless you work in the classroom. Our kids have a lot heaped on their shoulders, but the fact that they’re supported so well by so many groups of people, to me, makes all the difference in the world.”
As for MSU’s football program itself, this invitation marks the seventh-straight year for the Bulldogs to go bowling, extending the current program record. State is also one of only five SEC schools to go to a bowl game every year this decade, one of those being Texas A&M who started the decade in the Big XII.
Mullen has talked often in the past about the importance of bowl games in the matters of perception, preparation and development, and he believes the stretch of appearances now shows the consistency they’ve developed.
“There’s no doubt that Coach Mullen is a winner,” Cohen said, “and that he has put a process in place to allow us to be exceptional in every phase of our program. He’s created a culture at Mississippi State that’s really been fun to watch.”
For ticket information, visit www.hailstate.com/tickets