College Athlete Academic Progress Rates May Not Be “Fair Or Accurate,” Sports Journalist Says

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Almost all of the public universities in Virginia have at least one sport with a perfect academic progress rate among its athletes, but that may not be as impressive as it sounds.

The NCAA says schools are required to report how well athletes with scholarships perform in classrooms using “a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete.” But those scores may not be “a fair or accurate picture of [students’] academic progress,” Dom Amore, a sports journalist for the Hartford Courant, said.

Amore, a columnist and reporter who covers the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team, said that to satisfy the NCAA, a university just needs to make sure its athletes don’t fail required classes and don’t transfer or drop out in the middle of a semester.

Dom Amore, Hartford Courant sports journalist, with C-HIT Camp Instructor Kate Farrish.

“It’s not hard to achieve a [score of] 1,000,” Amore said. “You just have to make sure the kids go to class.”

Amore said that some schools are likely at a disadvantage for APR scores. Universities need money and staffing to provide for students’ athletic and academic needs. Amore said universities with more resources can maintain a very high APR score that way. Schools with less money, smaller staffs and less support may suffer.

So wealthy schools like The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, which had an athletic budget of $27.7 million in the 2018-2019 school year when it received eight perfect scores, may be able to attain a high APR score for its sports more easily than less-wealthy schools like Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, which had an athletic budget of $7.5 million and three perfect APR scores in 2018-19.

“The schools that have problems… are all schools that, for one reason or another, lack the resources for the academic sport,” Amore said.

The NCAA punishes schools with low APR scores. Teams with a rate below 930 have restrictions on practices and are not eligible to participate in NCAA postseason tournaments. If a school can’t meet those requirements due to inadequate funding as Amore said, those penalties may exclude up-and-coming schools with few donors.

Schools with more money are more likely to have adequate scores and therefore don’t have to worry about NCAA punishments. Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, for example, had an athletic budget of $39.3 million and three perfect APR scores in 2018-2019. That allowed the school to provide students with tutoring, one-on-one academic meetings, mandatory individual and group study sessions and required grade checks for all student athletes. Those resources, along with the expectations and “recognition” that student athletes have, ensures a “successful” ODU athletics department, Coach Jessica Livsey, the head swimming and diving coach for ODU men and women, said.

“The system that’s in place right now has worked really well for our guys and for our women,” Livsey said.

ODU website

ODU Coach Jessica Livsey

Livsey, an ODU graduate who has been coaching swimming and diving there since 2010, said that ODU’s “tight-knit” and “diverse” population has helped ODU keep high APR scores.

“[Students] know they have help,” she said. “They know there are other people going through [the same things] they’re going through.”

ODU is one of many public schools in Virginia that has achieved several perfect APR scores, according to the NCAA. The public university had a score of 1,000 for men’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis and women’s tennis in 2018-2019, the most recent school year available from the NCAA.

ODU shares company with other NCAA Division I schools in Virginia, including George Mason University, James Madison University, Longwood, Radford University, the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Tech and William & Mary, in having at least one perfect APR score.

In the 2018-2019 school year, GMU scored 1,000 in men’s golf, women’s cross country and women’s swimming and diving. Longwood scored 1,000 in women’s cross country, women’s golf, and women’s field hockey. UVA scored 1,000 in men’s golf, women’s golf, women’s lacrosse and women’s swimming and diving. VCU scored 1,000 in men’s cross country and women’s cross country.

In fact, out of all of the NCAA Division I public schools in Virginia, Norfolk State University and the Virginia Military Institute were the only colleges to not receive a perfect score in 2018-2019. The top score Norfolk State received was 994 in women’s volleyball, and the top rate at VMI was 993 in women’s cross country.

“It comes down to being able to continue to set your [academic] goals higher and the resources you [have] to be able to do those things,” Livsey said.

Caleb Ogilvie is a student at Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology in Virginia.


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