TWO YEARS AGO,
when the NCAA released the first Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores, UC Davis
wrestling coach Lennie Zalesky had no idea that his team would become what he
calls "a black eye for the university." His program had a solid
academic record and would later be honored by the National Wrestling Coaches
Association for outstanding achievement in the classroom.
But out of a
possible 1,000 on the APR, the NCAA's new gauge of whether schools are
responsibly educating their athletes, Davis's wrestling program scored 885: The
acceptable minimum is 925. Because two wrestlers left school in the year that
was under review (2003--04)--causing UC Davis to be marked down on the APR--the
program was deemed negligent.
at the other schools below 925, and it was embarrassing to be lumped with
them," Zalesky says. Particularly disconcerting: Several teams from
Sacramento State--Davis's rival and a school it considers a less-refined
neighbor--were also flagged. " Washington Monthly ranked us the 17th-best
[academic] school in the nation, and now the perception here was that the
wrestling team did something to diminish that," Zalesky says.
The APR has
forced UC Davis and other schools to change the way they operate. It renders
graduation rates less important than how student-athletes are doing while in
school. As a result, teams are moving to a new way of recruiting, educating and
even coaching players.
athlete can earn two points per term toward a team's APR: one point for being
academically eligible and one for remaining at the school. To calculate the
APR, the NCAA takes the points a team earns and divides it by the team's
possible maximum; the resulting percentage (with the decimal point removed) is
a program's APR. Scholarships can be forfeited if the score dips below 925.
The fear of
losing scholarships has made coaches more reluctant to run players off or take
on academically at-risk recruits. "Many things have changed, but we've seen
the most significant shift in recruiting," says Kevin Lennon, the NCAA's
vice president for membership services. "In the past, coaches might have
had autonomy over who they brought in. Now there is a greater institutional
review of recruits."
questions they never would have before, like, Does this recruit have a
girlfriend who might prompt him to drop out? Some coaches get weekly updates on
their athletes' academic progress, a practice that once was solely the concern
of support staff.
APR has stirred controversy, particularly when the first round of scholarship
reductions was announced in March 2006. Of the 6,112 Division I teams, 105 lost
scholarships; a mere handful were major conference teams in football and men's
basketball, the sports that the APR was expected to affect most. The biggest
names were San Diego State's football program, which forfeited four
scholarships, and the men's basketball programs at Arizona State (two) and
The results drew
skepticism. "The big schools that have a history of not graduating
kids--the schools that the APR was created for--are they now suddenly doing
things differently?" asks an AD at a smaller-profile school. "Or are
they just hiding kids in classes and majors that can keep them eligible?"
Adds Davis's Zalesky, "If athletes we bring in here, kids who come in with
an average GPA of 3.2 and a minimum 1500 [of 2400 on the] SAT, don't make it
sometimes, how are the athletes at these other schools making it? It makes you
wonder what they are pulling."
The new system
has also caused a shift in team dynamics. "It can change the way you
coach," says former major leaguer Ed Sprague, baseball coach at Pacific.
"You ask yourself questions like, If I don't give this kid immediate
playing time, will he transfer, and what does that mean for my APR?"
Sprague needs to be especially sensitive to this possibility because his sport
(unlike football and basketball) permits athletes to play immediately upon