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.