Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Report Card | by Jay

The image “http://www2.ncaa.org/images/logo_ncaa_home.gif” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. Yesterday the NCAA released its academic report for 2003-04, with the Academic Progress Rate (or APR) scores for all of Division 1. The magic number under the new scoring system is 925, a cut line which is the rough equivalent of a 50 percent graduation rate over a five-year period, and teams that stay on the acceptable side of 925 will not be at risk.

If programs don't hit the magic 925 over time, they will be docked up to 10 percent of their scholarships. Chronic violators could get postseason bans and, further, lose NCAA membership.

How did Division 1 stack up? From the report:

The data project that about 7 percent of all teams will be subject to contemporaneous penalties (financial aid restrictions) beginning in 2005-06. About 51 percent of all Division I institutions would have at least one team that would be subject to penalty, and most of those teams are concentrated in football, baseball and men's basketball.

Sixty institutions have at least three teams that would be subject to penalty, and of those, 16 have five or more.

No contemporaneous penalties will be assessed based on the 2003-04 APR data, however. The penalty phase won't be implemented until next year, when two years of APR data are available.

For informational purposes, though, the 2003-04 reports do indicate the number of contemporaneous financial aid penalties institutions would have incurred had the penalty phase been in effect this year. The Committee on Academic Performance (CAP) and the Board of Directors, the primary drivers of the academic-reform initiative, believe that action in effect puts institutions "on notice" as to the kinds of academic outcomes that will subject teams to penalty in subsequent years.

Contemporaneous penalties are those that prevent programs from replacing the grant-in-aid for one year of a student-athlete who leaves the institution and would not have been academically eligible had he or she returned. They have been called "the shot across the bow" designed to change behavior as more years of APR data are collected. If a team's academic performance still lags after four years of APR data, harsher penalties will be applied.

Here's the the full academic report for ND (in a .pdf file), and in case you're wondering, here's the NCAA to explain how APR scores are calculated. The gist of the scoring system: for every player in a sport, count one point per semester if he or she remains academically eligible, and count one point per semester if he or she returns for the next term (or graduates). For some good examples of how this works, take a look at this helpful breakdown.

The Chicago Trib has the highlights for Irish football:
Notre Dame's football score was only 934, but associate athletic directors John Heisler and Mike Karwoski said the score was hurt by fifth-year seniors, who are often not technically eligible in the second semester of their fifth year because they're not taking enough credits.
By the way, ND men's hoops scored 957; women's hoops 977.

The ten schools with the top scores across all sports are pretty familiar (save one): Navy - 990, Miami (Ohio)- 986, Duke - 984, Ball State - 983, Rice - 981, Northwestern - 980, Stanford - 979, Wake Forest - 979, Notre Dame - 979, Boston College - 979.

And, a few lowlights:

  • More than half of the schools in Division I — 183 of 326 — had at least one sport with a subpar APR. Football, baseball and men's basketball were the biggest problem areas.
  • Forty-two percent of Division I football programs (113 out of 233) and 47 percent of Division I men's basketball programs (154 of 326) fell below 925.
  • Last football season, nearly half of the squads in bowl games failed to meet the 925 standard. Of the eight teams in the prestigious Bowl Championship Series, only three — USC, Michigan and Virginia Tech — had graduation rates of 50% or higher.
  • Of the SEC's 12 member schools, only Vanderbilt achieved passing scores for both its football and men's basketball programs. Alabama football was particularly egregious (880 APR).
  • Six of the 10 Pac-10 football programs are way below 925. Oregon has the worst APR of any BCS program, 849. In addition, Oregon State, Arizona State, Washington, Arizona and UCLA are all at 892 or worse. No other major conference is as bad in football.
  • In the Big 12, only 19 of 34 teams in the "big 3" sports (football, baseball, men's hoops) made the cut (about 56%). In contrast, 30 of 32 teams in the Big 10 qualified.
  • At least eight schools seem to be in danger if they don't improve significantly in both football and basketball. These Division I programs are no better than 898 in both football and basketball: Arizona State, UNLV, Texas A&M, Temple, Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State, Louisiana-Lafayette and San Jose State.
It's worth noting that the NCAA relies on data provided by the schools, so it's sort of a self-reporting situation. The excellent Jason Kelly of the South Bend Tribune, interviewing NCAA VP Kevin Lennon, has an interesting take :

That previous system, which really was no system at all, received the tacit support of the university presidents spurring this reform. They played along, holding their noses perhaps, but covering their eyes too.

For that reason, this new arithmetic should be regarded as voodoo reform until it starts to have a practical impact.

It will be just a blur of numbers for a while, and the evolution from its current teething phase to a remedy with real bite will be gradual at best.

An appeals process will allow schools to make their mitigating cases, and every individual could have good explanation in their personal lives. Imagining how penalties will be implemented under those circumstances strains the brain as much the math problem meant to tabulate them.

Give them credit for creativity, but if the presidents could not wield their influence on individual campuses, consolidating their agenda under the bureaucratic auspices of the NCAA just promises more red tape.

From their perspective, it creates a framework to enact standards that would be detrimental without their competitors playing by the same rules.

"I think there is something about collective action that is good for the business overall of intercollegiate athletics," Lennon said. "That, I think, is a catalyst for why you do things at a national level. It speaks to your priorities."

Pooling their power within the NCAA, university presidents have added action to their spoken priorities. Whether that will equate to meaningful academic reform in college sports depends on the strength in their numbers.

The LA Times has a very good overview of the report and its various implications and consequences, and echoes some of Kelly's concerns.

Ellen Staurowsky, a professor of sport management and media at Ithaca College in New York, says that as long as college sports equate to big money — with multimillion-dollar television contracts and corporate sponsorships — coaches and their athletic departments will be pressured to cut corners, if not cheat, to win.

"I don't have a lot of confidence [the APR] will have a meaningful impact," said Staurowsky, who belongs to an academic group that has pushed for athletic reform. "The NCAA needs to take a very hard look at the entire nature of college sports. Until such time as those kinds of things get cleaned up, if they can be cleaned up, than these other measures are what I would call public relations moves designed to protect the NCAA brand."
Will the new system be a kick in the pants for deficient schools to get their acts together, or will it be simply another case of lip service, with no real teeth? It's too early to say. However, as noted before on this site, it's good the NCAA is at least trying, and an attempt at a minimum-standards measuring stick like the APR is an excellent first step towards reclaiming the quaint notion of the "student-athlete".