Deion Sanders and the Buffaloes score highest academic success with an unsung hero

Colorado claims victory in the classroom with the help of Kris Livingston
Jan 13, 2024; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Colorado Buffaloes football head coach Deion Sanders cheers in the second half of the game against the USC Trojans at the CU Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 13, 2024; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Colorado Buffaloes football head coach Deion Sanders cheers in the second half of the game against the USC Trojans at the CU Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports / Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

For college athletic departments, CU included, this time of year is a chance to breathe. A little. To reflect back at the year and unpack the good, average and room-for-improvement parts of the program. In the Buffs case, under direction of athletic director Rick George.

I’ve known the guy for almost four decades. The Buffs are blessed to have the talented Illinois native at the helm for the past 11 years. Strategic plans are a big part of George’s philosophy. The Buffs work from a new one every three years. Each section of athletics digs deep and is constantly analyzing strengths, opportunities and weaknesses.

A prime example is the athletic department’s excellent showing in academics. Believe it or not, in this time of constant chatter about NIL, transfer portal and other stuff making college athletics quite chaotic, the phrase Student-Athlete still remains relevant to some.

Like CU’s Director of Academics and Student Success Kris Livingston and staff working hard each and every day to give Colorado’s athletes resources necessary for victory in the classroom. This team made history recently, when the CU cumulative student-athlete GPA was the highest in school history.

Guess what? Coach Prime’s players scored their highest academic success ever. It certainly helped. CU has 363 students/athletes across 17 sports, football has 30% at 107. Livingston says, “How the football team performs dramatically impacts our overall score.” And here’s something else that might surprise Sanders detractors focused on the flash more than the substance. “Coach Prime is heavily involved. We meet with position coaches every two weeks and give a progress report. Guys that are struggling? They’re in Coach Prime’s office immediately.”

The Toledo, Ohio native has been involved in CU athletics since 1997. The retired basketball coach and current athletic administrator’s Ceal Barry’s first hire as director of basketball operations. The former Miami University (OH) basketball standout performed that role till Barry retired from coaching and moved into administration. Livingston moved from basketball operations to academics.

“We’re lucky to get tremendous support from key constituents,” says Livingston, who also coached at Iowa State and did some educational consulting before Boulder. “From the chancellor, provost, athletic director, coaches and faculty, CU Academics gets tremendous support.”

Livingston gives a lot of credit to George. “Think about it. When he was hired in 2012, we had the 100-year flood, then the pandemic and its constant changing of rules and precautions. It was crazy. Rick led us in navigating through that crazy time.”

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With the before-mentioned absurdity that has become big-time college football and basketball, Livingston sees similarities. “With Covid we had to constantly adapt on the fly. Same thing today with the constantly changing landscape. Every day there’s something new.”

Livingston’s a big fan of George’s core values for the department and adopted them for academic success. “it’s called RAPID. First, college athletics changes rapidly. We know that. But for Buffs athletics? RAPID stands for ‘Respect, Accountability, Passion, Integrity and Dedication.’ We love that philosophy.”

In 2013, she was awarded the “Honorary C” for her longtime dedication to the department, and in particular, the student-athlete. When Folsom Field is quiet, same for the Events Center or whatever field of athletic competition, the Herbst Academic Center is buzzing. “We have great energy in this place. The student-athletes and staff really engage with one another. We never lose sight of our job, which is the academic success of the athletes.”

Livingston says the current job is rewarding because it marries two worlds for the former academic all conference member who was inducted into the Miami University (OH) Hall of Fame, only the second women’s basketball player so honored. “I report to the Provost and the athletic director and it’s all about student success. It’s my dream job.”

In this space, your correspondent enjoys reminiscing about the glory years of CU football in which this 66-year-old was blessed to have a front row seat to many conference championships and one national title. The wisecrack within can’t resist teasing those great players, “You were quite talented but apparently, not as smart as the current Buffs.”

CU fans hope current academic success is a harbinger for future gridiron glory too.


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Mark McIntosh

MARK MCINTOSH

Mark McIntosh covered the Buffs as a sports broadcaster for KCNC-TV during the glory years of Colorado football from the late 1980’s through 2006. He also hosted the television coaches' shows of Bill McCartney, Rick Neuheisel, and Gary Barnett during that time frame.  McIntosh is an author, motivational speaker and encourages others to persevere despite life’s challenges. The father of two is an advocate for equity in education and helping displaced men build a stronger cord to their families, purpose and communities.  The Missouri native also suffers from a rare bone marrow disease, Amyloidosis, and advocates for earlier detection of the incurable disease that attacks vital organs like the kidneys, heart, lungs, and liver.