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May 6, 2008 - NCAA issues penalties and waivers for APR failures

The NCAA announced that 218 teams at 123 Division I institutions will be sanctioned for failing to meet the minimum academic benchmarks measured by the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR). Sanctions included loss of scholarships, reduced practice time, and a potential of post-season bans if poor APR performance continues. According to the NCAA, about 3.5 percent of 6,272 teams received penalties. This is up from last year, when 2 percent of teams were penalized. However, the number of teams receiving penalties was much less than the projections indicated last spring as a result of increased scores that met the minimum benchmarks, the NCAA’s administration of waivers for certain cases, and mitigating factors, such as granting relief for teams that demonstrate measurable improvement and other criteria.

“We want to change the behaviors of the teams and the institutions and the athletic program so we’re all headed toward the success of student-athletes on the field and in the classroom,” NCAA President Myles Brand said. “Everyone — coaches, ADs, presidents and student-athletes — should understand that’s the order of the day.”

The APR measures college athlete performance based on eligibility and retention, with each team scoring a maximum possible of 1000 points; an team APR of 925 is considered by the NCAA as a “cutline,” below which possible penalties would be considered. The APR was designed to help provide a mechanism to put pressure on sport programs to keep college athletes academically eligible and ultimately graduating them. Twenty-six teams were handed stiffer penalties for not meeting the APR score of 925 over the past two years and did not show any significant improvement to warrant a waiver. The penalties included reductions in practice time. Failure to show future improvement could lead to post-season bans. Another 79 teams deemed headed in the wrong direction were issued warnings and could face the threat of such bans in two years.

Several programs received significant sanctions. San Jose State University received 12.17 scholarships cut in five sports, including nine in football. Sacramento State saw seven of its 20 sports sanctioned. Other major-college football programs receiving sanctions include the University of Alabama at Birmingham losing nine scholarships, Washington State University losing eight scholarships, and the University of Idaho also losing eight scholarships.

However, questions remained about the 507 teams that posted APRs beneath 925 but didn’t draw sanctions. According to the USA Today, these teams were not sanctioned 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. The Division I sport teams that did not receive sanctions, but also posted an APR below 925, included: six teams in men’s basketball that have made the Final Four since 2002 (Indiana, Maryland, Ohio State, LSU, Oklahoma and Florida); 16 college football teams 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. 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.”

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics will consider the issue of academic integrity and NCAA infractions with representatives of the NCAA at its next meeting on June 17, 2008, in Washington, DC.