When it comes to Division-I athletic programs, the NCAA is demanding higher and better performances each year in the classroom.
This past June, the NCAA passed a new set of rules about the Academic Progress Rates (APR) of students playing Division-I athletics.
To qualify for the 2012-13 playoffs and championships, each team must have a minimum 900 four-year APR or a 930 average over two years. For the 2014-15 season, teams must earn a four-year average of at least 930 or an average of at least 940 in the two most recent years. And for the 2015-16 season, teams must earn a four-year APR of at least 940.
Each Division-I team calculates its APR each academic year, based on the eligibility, graduation and retention of each scholarship athlete, the NCAA said. Teams scoring below certain thresholds can face consequences, such as practice restrictions and restrictions on postseason competition. Rates are based on the past four years’ performance, or two years in some cases.
Though some universities have athletes who perform well in the classroom, the one sport that seems to be struggling with APR is men’s basketball.
“Keeping up with school work is difficult enough if it’s all you do,” said Dom Amore, who covers the UConn men’s basketball team for the Hartford Courant. “These kids have to play in games all across the country, in addition to their practice schedule. It’s very difficult.”
Already 10 Division-I teams have been banned from the 2013-2014 playoffs, wralsportsfan.com reported. They are Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Florida A&M, New Orleans, Grambling State, Mississippi Valley State, Florida International, and Alabama State, which is already banned in volleyball, football and baseball.
The UConn men’s basketball team was recently banned from the 2012-13 national tournament because of academic problems. Though they failed at getting a four-year average of 900, their two-year average is above 930, so they are now qualified for this year’s tournament.
Compared to their new buddies in the American Athletic Conference (AAC; the old Big East), UConn has the lowest APR, beneath 900. The rest all have rates that pass the four-year average that is already in place. The two with the highest APRs are the universities of Louisville and Memphis, at 995.
Moving down south, Duke University leads the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) with an APR of 995, as well as having 13 teams having the highest APR in their respective sports. Ten Duke teams had a perfect score of 1000. Miami’s men’s basketball program had the second highest APR with 990, and North Carolina State placed 3rd with 984, their highest APR since the 2004-05 season.
In the Southeastern Conference (SEC), the reigning national champions of Division-1 football, Alabama’s basketball team leads the SEC with an APR of 995. Georgia has the second highest with 990, and Florida has the 3rd with 989.
Focusing on the teams of Connecticut, the men’s basketball team with the highest APR is the University of Hartford with 990, and the school with the least is UConn with 887. Though low on the basketball court, UConn’s football APR ranks 2nd with 958, behind Yale, whose average is 993.
New head coach Kevin Ollie is being credited with improving UConn’s APR in basketball. Some people continue to blame the retired head coach, Jim Calhoun, for the low APRs that caused the recent postseason ban. Some fans think Ollie’s approach to academics is stronger than Calhoun’s, but Amore disagrees, saying they both value academics.
“Kevin Ollie has a specific clause in his contract, which says that if the academic rate gets too low, he can be fired,” Amore said. “There were more strict clauses and provisions placed into Kevin Ollie’s contract; Calhoun had some of it. He lost $180,000 for APR. [Both coaches] have a strong belief in kids to get an education and what happened in APR was against both coach’s beliefs. It’d be unfair to say that either coach is indifferent or doesn’t care about academics. They just allowed things to slip through the cracks.”
Many universities offer various means of academic support to their players to try and keep their grades up. Some schools, including UConn, send an academic advisor on the road with the team to run study halls and classes to help the players keep up their assignments.
Many schools also have study halls fitted into the student’s schedules to give them an opportunity to complete their work. One school that follows this process is Quinnipiac University with what it calls “Power hours.”
“All of our first-semester freshmen student athletes are required to do what we call “Power Hours”-study hall,” said Lyneene Richardson, Quinnipiac’s associate athletic director for academic support. “We embed Power Hours in each of their schedules just like it is a class, again assisting in creation of the routine. All other student athletes are required to attend Power Hours based on their GPA. Once you achieve a cumulative GPA, you do not have to attend Power Hours anymore.”
Many schools, including Quinnipiac, also have various penalties for players if their grades get too low, which can include practice suspensions, hours to make up their assignments and in some cases, a game suspension.
Though some men’s basketball teams seem to be struggling, the women’s team at UConn has consistently had higher APRs than the men’s team. Amore said they do get the same support and it isn’t about who is smarter in the classroom. Instead, one key factor, he said, is each player’s motivation.
“There’s a far greater ambition on the men’s team to play professionally in the NBA or overseas, something that is more lucrative than what the women are facing,” Amore said.
“The women’s basketball team…their classwork is more part of their experience than the men’s basketball team. The aspiration on the men’s side is more likely to be to play in the NBA. If a men’s player has an aspiration to play in the NBA and he’s not playing enough or the position he wants, he’s more likely to transfer. On the women’s side, if she’s not getting what she wants on the basketball side, but getting it on the academics side, she’ll be more likely to stay because that’s where her career is likely to be,” Amore added.
Transfers to other schools, along with academics, can have a drastic effect on a school’s APR.
Some players find it easier than others to play well and make good grades.
“It is a very fine balancing act, that some manage better than others,” Richardson said, “I think the thing that makes it manageable for the athlete is dedication and a routine. Once the student gets into a good routine, they typically have an easier time balancing their academic and athletic responsibilities.”
The NCAA will continue to raise expectations for athletes in the classroom and consequences for colleges when the students don’t do well.
“All of (Quinnipiac’s) student athletes know that if they do not do well in the classroom they cannot be successful on the playing surface,” Richardson said. “They must maintain eligibility as set by the NCAA and conference in order to be in good academic standing to play.”
Brian Hultgren is a junior at Xavier High School, Middletown.