If you thought the Cal football team was bad on Saturdays, it's even worse on graduation day.
The No. 1 public university in the country has the least success graduating players among the 72 teams in the major football-playing conferences, according to NCAA data released this week.
Just 44 percent of Cal's football players graduated within the parameters established by the NCAA. For comparison, archrival Stanford is among the national leaders at 93 percent; state school neighbor San Jose State checked in at 51 percent.
Nor is football the only Cal team struggling to graduate players. While many sports are performing well, men's basketball posted a Graduation Success Rate of 38 percent — the fourth-lowest among teams in the major conferences.
The football team's problems come at a time when graduation rates are rising across the country. In the Pac-12 Conference, for instance, only Cal and USC fared worse this year than last.
Athletic Director Sandy Barbour acknowledged in a statement that the Bears "still have a lot of work to do" but said the university has "put systems in place that we believe will raise the success rate for under-performing teams."
The GSR figures represent the four-year average of freshmen who enrolled from 2003-04 through 2006-07 and were given six years to graduate. In other words, the cycle ended recently — in the spring of 2012.
None of the football players included in the data played for coach Sonny Dykes — he was hired last December — and the majority did not play for basketball coach Mike Montgomery.
"A top priority for this program since this staff was formed has always and will always be for our student-athletes to complete their undergraduate degree," Montgomery said.
The football team's poor graduation rate is not a new problem. After steadily rising in the first half of former coach Jeff Tedford's tenure, the numbers have steadily declined for the past four years — a factor that contributed to the decision to fire Tedford last winter.
Tedford called the graduation data "very concerning."
"It makes it seem like we weren't dedicated to academics," he said. "No matter what anybody says, that's not true." Tedford attributes the lack of success to players who played as seniors, then left in the spring to pursue careers in the NFL without earning a degree.
"People have good intentions, but life goes in a different direction," he said. "They rarely came back. Looking back, the lesson I learned was to have them graduate in four-and-a-half years."
Aaron Tipoti, a former defensive tackle with NFL aspirations, left school last spring without completing his coursework. He wasn't drafted and plans to return to school to earn a degree in social welfare.
"In the back of your mind, it's always the big lights of the NFL," Tipoti said. "By the time it comes to your senior year and you're maybe a class or two short, you want to go train somewhere because being in the NFL is a bigger dream."
Bill Campsey, a San Jose State professor and member of the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics — an academic watchdog — noted that a different measure, the Academic Progress Rate, is considered a more accurate reflection of classroom success than graduation rates.
Implemented a decade ago, the APR is designed to measure retention and eligibility. Schools get rewarded for keeping players on track to graduate. If the scores fall below a benchmark, penalties (scholarship reductions, bans on postseason play) are assessed.