The APR: Another cog in the college sports arms race

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Today, the NCAA released their Academic Progress Rating reports and there wasn’t much that stood out. The high-major programs passed. As did most of the mid-major programs.

Let’s rephrase that: The programs with resources passed.

This isn’t going to be an indictment of the schools that have the means to help their student-athletes, more power to them that they can. But if you need any evidence as to why the APR, and it’s standards, are unfair as a whole, take a look at the six college basketball programs that received postseason bans.

Of them, four are in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, widely viewed as the weakest Division I conference in the sport and one that doesn’t have near the academic support major programs can offer their athletes. A fifth team, New Orleans, spent most of 2005-2011 recovering from Hurricane Katrina — dropping all athletic scholarships by going to Division III just to help keep the school itself afloat at one point. The final school Florida International, dealt with one of the biggest internal disasters in college basketball in 2012, the firing of Isaiah Thomas, who seemingly ran the program like an NBA team (meaning class wasn’t really a requirement) and then left it, causing a number of defections, which kills a program’s APR.

You think any of those athletic directors will ever see the bonuses that AD’s of major program see, for athletes doing what they’re supposed to do in class?

The scoring of the APR for an athletic program is simple. A player can earn up to two points per semester, four points for the year. One point goes to being in good academic standing at the end of each semester, another for returning to the same school each semester. The second point can be waived if the player has good reason to leave school (i.e. a transfer or going pro) and leaves in good academic standing, meaning they have a 2.6 grade point average or higher at the time of departure. To get the APR of a program, the total number of points from a given time frame are added up and divided by the total number of the potential points.

The APR is unfair because it puts every athletic program in its respective division on the same playing field. In terms of Division I, that’s shouldn’t be the case. You think you can compare New Orleans’ academic-athletic support apples-to-apples with Ohio State’s?

Though the NCAA did rightfully screw all programs equally in one way: transfers. Take the case of Vince Martin. Martin, Marietta, Ga. native, came to Arkansas-Pine Bluff as a freshman for the 2009-10 season. He lasted one semester, transferring home to Young Harris University, which at the time was transitioning from a junior college program to Division II. Through no fault of UAPB or Martin’s, now the Golden Lions take an APR hit. On any level, a program shouldn’t be punished for an 18-to-22 year-old player making an adult decision to be closer to home.

Next season, the balance of power shifts even more towards the big boys. The two-year rolling APR average bumps up to 940 and the four-year to 930. That means those on the low end will have to do even more with less academically to keep up. Though there will be a grace period given to teams flirting with that eligibility line a chance to catch up, it’ll be hard for any program that has had trouble in the past, to stay above that line consistently.

The NCAA is penalizing teams for not keeping up with the Joneses. In the arms race (players, facilities, coaches and merchandise) that is college sports, the organization is basically saying that academics is no different. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but also doesn’t help all schools involved. The only difference is, that unlike the other aspects of this business, the academic end-game actually benefits the athletes, who get a degree.

The APR needs to be altered. Not the the NCAA really cares to change it. But as long as the Division I schools at the bottom financially are expected to keep up with the ones at the top, this cycle won’t end.

David Harten is a sportswriter who spent several seasons covering the SWAC and other mid-major college basketball conferences. Follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Wichita State getting more national respect with non-conference scheduling

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Wichita State is starting to gain more national respect with regards to its non-conference schedule.

Since moving to the American Athletic Conference this spring, the Shockers have not only gained the benefit of being in a multi-bid league every year, but they’re also getting better teams to play them outside of conference play.

According to a report from Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle, the Shockers now have non-conference games scheduled with Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State this season. With Wichita State also playing in the Maui Invitational, it gives the Shockers plenty of opportunities to schedule quality opponents and improve its NCAA tournament seeding. And that’s before Wichita State starts conference play.

Although Wichita State was getting invited regularly to prestigious non-conference tournaments such as Maui or the Battle 4 Atlantis, they were having a tough time getting certain schools to book home-and-home series. The Baylor series signifies a small, but significant, change to how Wichita State might be able to do things now.

USC forward Bennie Boatwright returning for junior year

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USC has a chance to be really good next season as forward Bennie Boatwright announced that he’s returning for his junior season.

The 6-foot-10 forward put up 15.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 36 percent from three-point range as his return means that the Trojans should be a major contender in the Pac-12 next season. Elijah Stewart also announced this week that he is returning as USC could start Jordan McLaughlin, De’Anthony Melton, Stewart, Boatwright and Chimezie Metu next season.

With Duke transfer Derryck Thornton Jr. also becoming eligible and McDonald’s All-American guard Charles O’Bannon Jr. entering the program, the Trojans are a potential top-10 team.

Following decommitment, four-star recruit makes eye-opening remarks about Ohio State

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Ohio State lost a four-star recruit on Wednesday when in-state Class of 2018 wing Darius Bazley opted to open up his recruitment.

As a rising senior who is just finishing his junior season of high school, Bazley’s decommitment isn’t going to immediately hurt the Buckeyes next season. But the 6-foot-7 wing’s comments about why he opted to open up his recruitment are pretty jarring.

In a story with Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch, Bazley opened up about why he decommitted from Ohio State. Bazley’s eye-opening remarks include how the Buckeyes might not get him ideal NBA exposure and how Ohio State might miss the NCAA tournament in his freshman year.

“I was excited when I first got the offer,” Bazley said to Jardy. “Ohio State is still a great place. It’s nothing against the school or anything, but my one ultimate goal is to get to the NBA and I just didn’t feel as confident as I did when I first committed that Ohio State was one of those schools that could get me there. At the end of the day I’ve got to perform no matter where I go, but I think there’s other schools out there that could put me on a bigger stage and in a better position to show those NBA scouts when I get to college what I can do.”

Bazley also didn’t appear to be pleased at the recruiting class coming into Ohio State for the Class of 2017, which is the class that is coming in this season. Remember, Bazley is a Class of 2018 recruit who still has to finish his senior season.

“Ohio State, they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament this year,” Bazley said to Jardy. “They didn’t even make the NIT, which is unfortunate, but I looked into the recruits they have coming into next year, they didn’t look too good for the future. So I felt like when my class came in, yeah, we would’ve been OK, but good enough to make the tournament? I don’t know. I just felt as if I was to de-commit, actually take my time, figure everything out it would just be a lot better.”

Ohio State was once one of the major destinations for one-and-done players a decade ago so these remarks are very surprising. D’Angelo Russell was a top-five pick in the NBA Draft only two years ago, and while the Buckeyes might not be as successful in recent years as they once were, they still get plenty of national exposure with regards to producing NBA talent.

The NCAA tournament comments might carry some more weight though. The Buckeyes have missed the NCAA tournament in two consecutive seasons and things are also looking difficult for them to reach the Big Dance for next season. If Bazley wants to play in the NCAA tournament, then I could understand him wanting to open things up and explore more options.

Still, you don’t often see a player make comments like this about a school after decommitting–especially a program with as much national exposure as Ohio State. Bazley is likely going to face some heat for his remarks, but if those are his true feelings about a future life decision, then he should explore what else is out there.

Nevada gets transfer commitment from Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman

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Nevada continues to build its roster through transfers as the Wolf Pack added Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman on Thursday.

The 6-foot-7 Thurman will have to sit out one season before playing his senior season but he is coming off of a very good campaign for the Mavericks. The versatile forward put up 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 49 percent from the field.

One of the Summit League’s better players the last two seasons, Thurman should be a solid rotation forward for Nevada as he has a chance to be a breakout player with one more year of development. If Thurman can improve his 25 percent three-point shooting then he could be a major factor for Nevada.

D-League salaries, two-way contracts increase NBA Draft early entries

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Yesterday, I wrote a piece about how it’s dumb to criticize players for entering the NBA Draft without costing themselves their collegiate eligibility when the NCAA’s new NBA Draft rules are specifically designed for said players to be able to do that.

In that column, I mentioned that D-League salaries are on the rise and that the NBA’s new CBA instituted something called “two-way contracts,” and I wanted a chance to elaborate and clarify a couple of the points that I made.

Let’s start with the “two-way contracts,” which NBA teams each get two of. They are essentially a retainer that those teams can place on younger players they want to be the 16th and 17th men on their roster, holding their rights as they bounce between the D-League — where they will likely spend the majority of the year — and the NBA. The catch is that those players have to have less than three years service as a professional, and the point of it is to provide a financial incentive for younger players with the potential to reach the NBA to remain stateside while allowing those NBA teams to develop them.

That financial incentive is fairly large, as well: Two-way players will make $75,000 guaranteed and will be able to make up to $275,000, depending on the amount of time they spend with the NBA team.

That means there are an extra 60 jobs this season that can end up paying players with less than three years of professional basketball experience upwards of a quarter-of-a-million dollars.

That’s not a bad starting salary.

The other point that I wanted to address is the rising D-League salaries which, technically, will not be rising. There are still going to be Tier A and Tier B players, who make $26,000 and $20,000 respectively. But the NBA has something called affiliate players, which each of the now-25 NBA teams with a D-League affiliate can pay up to $50,000 for training camp. NBA teams are allowed a maximum of four affiliate players, who will still make their $26,000 salary from their D-League team.

In other words, that’s 100 more jobs available in the United States where a professional basketball player can make $76,000, and that’s before you consider that the five NBA teams that do not yet have a D-League affiliate will still have to play players to get them into training camp.

That $76,000 is not a life-changing amount of money. Neither is the $275,000 that a two-way contract can pay. But it’s a pretty damn good paycheck to make for an entry-level job into the industry that you always dreamed of being in.

Athletes have an unbelievably small window where they can capitalize monetarily on their gifts.

If a 21-year old sophomore decides that he wants to continue to develop his game and chase his NBA dream by making $76,000 as a D-League player, is that really all that crazy?

After all, 135 of the 450 players, or 30 percent of the roster spots, on NBA’s opening night were taken by guys that had spent time in the D-League.

There’s more than one way to make a dream come true.