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Understanding the NCAA Academic Progress Reports

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The NCAA's Academic Progress Rate report is the organization's attempt to hold sports teams - especially in the revenue generating sports of football and basketball - accountable for the graduation rate/ good academic standing of their teams. Myles Brand has been a crusader for academic reform in schools, and as president of the NCAA, has been working to penalize teams for their problems in providing 4 years of schooling for their scholarship players. The numbers put out by the NCAA are an average of a 4 year period.

The press release:

The most recent multi-year Academic Progress Rates indicate nearly all 6,272 Division I teams are achieving or exceeding the standards for academic performance based on four years of data, said NCAA President Myles Brand.

Every Division I sports team calculates its APR each academic year, based on the eligibility, retention and graduation of each scholarship student-athlete. An APR of 925 projects to an NCAA Graduation Success Rate of approximately 60 percent.

Teams that score below 925 and have a student leave school academically ineligible can lose up to 10 percent of their scholarships. Known as immediate penalties, these scholarships can be lost each year and not awarded until the following year. Teams can also be subject to historical penalties for poor academic performance over time.

Those harsher penalties can go up to being booted from Division I (in that sport or in all sports, I did not find out). From Sports Illustrated:

The scores were based on academic performance from 2003-07. Athletes earn one point for remaining academically eligible each semester and another point each semester they remain at the school, accumulating a maximum of four points each year. The scoring is altered slightly for schools on a quarters-based calendar.

Teams are not penalized if a player transfers but leaves in good standing. And scores are generally up. From the USA Today:

There were 507 teams that posted APRs beneath 925 but didn't draw sanctions because they had no athletes who left school while academically ineligible or their schools sought and received waivers — granted by the NCAA when there are mitigating circumstances and the institution has an acceptable academic improvement plan.


Among the sub-925 programs not hit: six in men's basketball that have made the Final Four since 2002 (Indiana, Maryland, Ohio State, LSU, Oklahoma and Florida); 16 in major college football, including Arizona, Purdue, Oregon and South Carolina; and 54 in baseball, including No. 8-ranked Oklahoma State, No. 18 Coastal Carolina and five-time College World Series champion Arizona State.

"That raises the question: How can so many schools avoid sanctions?" said Nathan Tublitz, a neuroscience professor at Oregon who co-chairs the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, an alliance of faculty senates at Division I universities. "One can understand a few exceptions. One can understand that some schools have good reasons. But for so many schools to have so many good reasons raises the question of whether there's really any bite to this academic performance package and the sanctions that are supposed to be issued."

Tublitz is a "very strong supporter" of the overall package, he said. "It's just that if you're going to set up a program that has a cutoff score, you have to stick to that cutoff score and not continue to give schools a free ride. If they don't make it after four years, what's going to happen after five? What's going to happen after six? How many times does a school get an exception?"

Omar Epps in the ProgramYour list of NCAA penalized schools.

And an earlier published report from the University of Central Florida on Graduation Rates for NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Sweet Sixteen teams (pdf)

Nearly a quarter of the penalized teams were in men's basketball, and most of those schools were the non-Bowl Championship Conference schools. HMM. Pat Forde delves a little deeper into the rich mouse- poor mouse issue:

On the football list, the schools are either members of the Mid-American Conference (Western Michigan, Toledo, Buffalo, Northern Illinois and, starting next year, Temple), the Western Athletic Conference (New Mexico State, Hawaii), or the Sun Belt (Middle Tennessee State). Those happen to be the bottom three leagues in the Sagarin Ratings for 2005.

On the basketball side we have schools from the Big West, Mid-Continent, Conference USA, Mid-Eastern Atlantic, Big East, Atlantic Sun, MAC, WAC, Southland, SWAC and Sun Belt. Most of those leagues rank among the bottom half of America according to the current conference RPI, and many rank among the bottom third. The Big East is the only league among the top eight.

Toledo: $8 million in the hole.

Kent State: $7.9 million.

Western Michigan: $7.2 million

Northern Illinois: $6.2 million.

Texas State: $4.1 million.

New Mexico State: $4 million.

And so forth. There are some among the these two-dozen schools who say they're breaking even or turning a small profit, but you wonder how they balance their books. Is it really possible that Temple took in $17.9 million in revenues in 2003-04, while spending that exact same amount?

Thornton CenterNow compare those figures with, say, Tennessee. The Volunteers' operating budget for '03-04 shows $62 million in revenue (more than 20 times what Western Michigan pulled in) and $31 million in expenses.

Do you think it's any coincidence that Tennessee put out a release Wednesday afternoon trumpeting its success in the APR?

Above is a picture of Tennessee's Thornton Athletics Student Life Center.

The money of the bigger conference schools allows for the hiring of counselors to hand-hold athletes and make sure they go to class, for funding of housing, classes, and tutoring through summer school, to perhaps establish a few more easy-A classes, and hire tutors who "help" with the completion of work and the writing of papers (even if that help includes doing the typing and the research). These progress reports, of course, do not go into the school and measure available resources or the quality of that schooling, though Brand made a statement that schools should make sure their priorities are on education and less on new facilities.

The Big East's penalized school was Seton Hall. Note that St. John's APR was 918, slightly below the cutoff (pdf) ...; schools can apply for waivers if there are extenuating circumstances. I bet those transfers over the past 4 years extenuate as well as any other circumstance... I can't imagine that every one of those guys was all that motivated to bust their tails in the classrooms after they were asked to not return or chose to move on.

In basketball, below St. John's and Seton Hall are South Florida and Cincinnati. Those high first semester grades that Norm Roberts alluded to before conference season better stay high, or else the team is going be docked a scholarship.