Posted: Thursday March 3, 2005 1:20PM; Updated: Thursday March 3, 2005 9:16PM
Not Making the Grade
Major-conference schools that fell below the NCAA's acceptable APR level for '03-04
Schools have through the end of March to report corrections to their score.
NCAA president Myles Brand hailed Monday's unveiling of the first set of Academic Progress Rate (APR) data as "the implementation of the most far-reaching academic reform for intercollegiate athletics in decades." Hardly a college coach or administrator around the country would disagree.
But that doesn't necessarily mean they're happy about it.
The new, confusing metric had barely become public Monday before representatives of the schools whose teams were flagged as underperforming academically went into spin mode. Nearly everyone, it seemed, had extenuating circumstance to consider or justification for why the numbers weren't an accurate representation of their program. Others criticized the NCAA's haste in making the numbers public considering they're still very much a work in progress (schools have a month to report corrections that could change their score), they only reflect one year's worth of data (2003-04) and no penalties are being assessed until next year's data is collected.
"It's good that we're having this dry run," said Sandy Hatfield-Clubb, Arizona State's senior associate athletic director, "but the down side is, we're having it in front of the entire nation."
Before going any further, an explanation is in order. It may seem foreign now, but soon the acronym APR, much like BCS and RPI before it, will become a common part of the college-sports lexicon. The centerpiece of a wider academic reform movement begun under Brand. APR which tracks the performance of current and recent athletes is a more real-time version of the traditional graduation rate. Unlike graduation rates, these numbers carry consequences if a team underperforms.
How it works:
Each scholarship athlete on a team is eligible for two "points" per semester, one for remaining in the program and one for retaining academic eligibility.
A team's total points are divided by the total possible points to compute its percentage (i.e. 190 points out of a possible 200 = .950). The APR is that number expressed as a whole (950), with the maximum possible score being 1000.
The NCAA's cut score -- what it considers to be acceptable -- is 925. Beginning next year, teams that fall below the cut score will be prevented from replacing the scholarship of any "0-for-2" athlete (someone who not only leaves the program but does so in poor academic standing), with a maximum possible scholarship loss of 10 percent.
Next year's APR score will reflect data from both 2003-04 and '04-05, and by 2007 it will permanently include four years of data.
If this year's data were applicable, 29 percent of Division I-A football teams, 23 percent of Division I baseball teams and 19 percent of Division I men's basketball teams would be subject to penalties. But behind nearly every low score, there was a coach or administrator with an explanation.
"The major reason for our score is we had four of our five seniors leave school early last year to chase their dream of playing professionally," said Texas basketball coach Rick Barnes, whose team's 833 score fell among the bottom 10 percent nationally. "I'm not sure the score is a true reflection to the commitment and success we've had when it comes to education in our basketball program."
"Of the four years I've been here, they picked the one year that happened to be our worst," said Arizona State football coach Dirk Koetter, whose team had an APR of 887. "Over a four-year average, we'd be much better. The data they put out there, though, it's making it seem like were all a bunch of criminals out here not educating our guys, and that's not true."
Texas A&M was the highest-profile program that fell short in both football (887) and men's basketball (839). "In both cases, we made coaching changes, and some athletes decided to leave," said Aggies AD Bill Byrne. "In my 30 years in athletic administration, when there are coaching changes, you will have athletes leave."
All three make reasonable points. Whether the NCAA sympathizes with them is another story.
"These are tough standards, but we think they are fair," said Hartford President Walter Harrison, chair of the NCAA committee that devised the formula. "We would urge coaches, administrators and presidents to use this year's warnings as an opportunity to correct behavior."