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July 1, 2008 - Academic penalties on Division I sport teams examined by USA Today

In a series of articles by the USA Today, the paper examines NCAA’s academic-related penalties to 200 sport teams at 123 Division I schools as well as the waivers given.  By comparing the penalties applied across the leagues, the report highlights a difference between the academic performance of teams in higher profile conferences as compared to those conferences with mid-level universities.  The paper noted that both San Jose State University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham were docked more scholarships — a combined 23.62 in six sports — than all 65 schools in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) football conferences—college athletics’ most successful and lucrative conferences.

While the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific 10 and Southeastern conferences make up the BCS and almost 20% of Division I’s overall membership, they accounted for less than 10% of the academic progress rate (APR) scholarship cuts. Notably, the Pac-10 conference saw only three of 14 teams which failed to meet the APR sanctioned (21%) while the Western Athletic Conference saw 23 of 34 (68%) and the Mountain West Conference 10 of 15 (67%).  The SEC saw only five of 20 low-APR teams sanctioned (25%). The Sun Belt, with roughly the same geographic footprint, saw 16 of 46 (35%).  One explanation proposed by the article is that “the bigger-budget schools are more capable of beefing up academic support programs and taking other supportive measures such as covering summer school costs for incoming athletes and reducing missed class time by flying rather than busing to game.”

APRs are designed to be a gauge of both athlete retention and academic performance. Each scholarship player on each team can earn two APR points per semester or term for remaining at the school and staying academically eligible or graduating, and the NCAA’s statistic determines that teams should hit 92.5% of their possible total (an APR of 925) or face academic penalties.

Kevin Lennon, vice president of the NCAA, told the paper, “All of the schools we’re talking about here — in the power six conferences, in the non-power (leagues) — have an improvement plan where they’ve said, ‘We’re going to meet these targeted goals.’ I think over time, all of this will kind of even itself out if they’re able to meet their goals.” Notably, it may already be having an effect on decision making:  When the University of New Mexico’s (UNM) baseball and men’s basketball programs posted low APRs in 2006-2007, the head coaches were replaced. Said David Schmidly, president of UNM, “Academic scores were ‘not totally’ the reason, but that was a big part of the decision.”