The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football program came up two points shy of having the best Academic Progress Rate score in the Southern Conference for the 2009-10 academic year.
Tuesday, the NCAA released the latest APR scores and the Mocs posted a 988 single-year score, by far the program's highest since the gauge was created six years ago. It was a 121-point improvement from 2008-09.
"We're so proud," UTC chancellor Roger Brown said. "It's remarkable and it's dramatic."
Athletic director Rick Hart said the football program will receive an award in June at the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics convention for its APR turnaround.
"On the one hand, that means you had to have a lot of room to improve," Hart said, "but still, it's nice to be getting an award now for our improvement."
Football's four-year score of 925, right at the NCAA benchmark, allowed it to move out of the historical penalty phase for the first time. Wofford led the nine SoCon football teams with a 990.
"We get patted on the back as coaches, and a lot of it's not deserving, because the reason we're at the point we're at right now is because of the people in the athletic department," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. "What they did before I even showed up [in December 2008] and the direction they were going, they were doing it. We just had to come in and stay on top of it."
The UTC women's soccer team will lose four hours of practice time next season for failing to reach the benchmark. Soccer's four-year score is 889, but because its 2009-10 score was 984 the NCAA granted UTC relief from more serious penalties, such as scholarship reductions and a postseason ban.
Laura Herron, UTC's senior associate athletic director for compliance and senior woman administrator, said all of UTC's sports should be out of the penalty phase next year.
"When the '10-11 APR is recorded, I don't see any way we would have anybody in the historical penalties," Herron said.
Asked if that felt good to say after the many years of APR struggles that some programs have had, Herron smiled.
"It did," she said. "I haven't been able to say that for six years."
Among single-year scores at UTC, football's 988 was exceeded only by perfect scores of 1,000 from men's cross country, men's golf and men's tennis. Men's golf has the highest four-year score at 987.