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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 15, 2002

Focus at Rice is on academics

Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

HOUSTON — The biggest stadium in the Western Athletic Conference seats 70,000 and towers above its home, Rice University.

The stadium, where the University of Hawai'i will play Rice tomorrow, dwarfs the Romanesque porticos and tree-lined streets that make up this 300-acre campus.

But for all its dominance of the landscape, both the stadium and the athletic program that call it home refreshingly understand their place here among the gnarled oaks on the city's plush south side.

For it is academics that win the national championships at Rice, one of the most highly regarded universities in the country. It is the graduation rate and Rice's place among the top 15 universities nationwide in the U.S. News & World Report's annual rankings that the school proudly trumpets in its brochures.

The biggest national headlines of this football season for the Rice athletic department came in late September when the Owls won the USA Today/NCAA Academic Achievement Award that annually goes to the university that leads the nation in athletic graduation rate.

While the Owls have struggled on the field to a 4-6 record, they have been hugely successful in the classroom, topping Stanford, Notre Dame, Duke and 113 other schools in Division I-A with a graduation rate of 91 percent for freshmen who entered in the fall of 1995. (UH-Manoa's rate was 57 percent while UH-Hilo was No. 1 in Division II at 100 percent).

Football's role in this at Rice was an 84 percent graduation rate, the 15th consecutive year that football has graduated its players at the 70 percent mark or better.

At a school that attracts some of the brightest minds in the country — 1,320-1,490 is the midrange of the SAT scores for entering freshmen on a scale of 1,600 — the Owls strive for success on the field, too.

Not always an easy task at an institution where the football heyday is decades removed and tuition, room and board for a year runs approximately $25,800, discouraging all but the most affluent walk-ons.

Still, they take their football seriously here, for this is, after all, still Texas. They just don't get carried away about it.

Despite the frustrations of but five winning seasons in the last 30 years, they do not have a revolving door on the head football coach's offices.

Ken Hatfield is completing his ninth year as head coach and, at age 59, will likely be coaching here well on into his 60s.

Tiny (2,700 undergraduate enrollment) but well-endowed Rice battles to have the best of both worlds: academics and athletics. It tries mightily to hold its own with the Ivys in the classroom Monday through Friday and with the rest of college football on the field on Saturdays.

And on the autumn afternoons when it falls short of the latter, Rice students say they take solace in serenading their conquerors with the cheer: "Ho, ho, hey, hey, you're gonna work for us someday."