Coaches Respond to APRs

By Staff

Coaching Management, 13.6, August 2005,

For NCAA Division I programs, this spring’s March Madness referred to more than postseason basketball games. That’s because early March brought the first release of Academic Performance Rates, also called APR scores.

The numbers made public in March reflect the academic performance of Division I scholarship athletes in all NCAA championship sports during the 2003-04 academic year. Each student-athlete can earn two points per semester—one by remaining in school and one by remaining academically eligible. At the end of the year, points are tallied and divided by the total points a program could earn.

The NCAA set 925—or 92.5 percent of possible points—as the team and department minimum below which penalties can be imposed. That number, the NCAA says, represents an APR that would result in a 50 percent graduation rate among student-athletes.

More than half of NCAA Division I schools had at least one team fall below the cutoff. Among basketball programs, 61 of 326 men’s teams and 15 of 324 women’s teams failed to earn an APR of at least 925.

No penalties were assessed based on the 2003-04 APRs, but they will be imposed when the next round of scores are released in December. At that point, teams that have fallen below 925 and have a player who earns 0 points will be barred from replacing that player’s scholarship at the next awarding opportunity.

Division I coaches whose teams missed the mark are looking hard at their recruiting practices. For Scott Drew, Head Men’s Coach at Baylor University, evaluating prospects now means talking more in-depth with high school counselors and teachers. “I’m also working much more closely with our academic counselors,” he says.

One aspect of the collaboration between Baylor’s coaches and academic counselors has been the school’s new “academic quick screen” procedure. When Drew identifies a prospect, the first thing he does is forward his standardized test scores and transcript to Don Riley, Director of Student-Athlete Services at Baylor. Riley and his staff assign the prospect an academic ranking of 1 (acceptable), 2 (questionable), or 3 (not acceptable). “It’s been great for us,” says Drew. “It gives us a fast read on a prospect’s academics, and then we can decide whether we want to go any further.”

Beyond recruiting, coaches need to work closely with their current student-athletes to ensure academic success, according to Walter Harrison, President of Hartford University and Chair of the NCAA’s Committee on Academic Performance (CAP), the group that makes decisions regarding the APR. “Coaches should work with academic advisors to keep track of the academic success of their student-athletes,” Harrison says. “They should make it clear to student-athletes that success in the classroom is just as important as success on the court.”

Some coaches, however, are raising concerns that one aspect of the APR needs to be rethought: the loss of points when a player leaves to play professionally. Basketball coaches are particularly concerned about athletes who are in good academic standing in the fall but see their grades plummet in the spring while they prepare for the NBA draft.

According to Harrison, CAP agrees that the issue needs work and will discuss it when the group meets in late July. The committee may consider offering a waiver for schools whose athletes leave to play professionally. “The APR formula would stay the same, but once a waiver was filed, the committee would evaluate the athlete’s grades up to the point when he or she decided to enter the draft, and possibly return the eligibility point,” says Julie Cromer, NCAA Director of Membership Services and staff liaison to CAP.

Harrison expects CAP to forward a proposal on the issue to the Board of Directors following the July meeting. “I fully expect us to resolve this before the next round of APR data is due in the fall,” he says.

Whether or not the committee tinkers with the formula, APRs will continue to be a major focus for coaches. And according to Todd Turner, Athletic Director at the University of Washington, who chaired the NCAA Incentives/Disincentives Management Council Working Group that created the APR, coping with the new standards is simple. “Recruit good kids and don’t let anybody become ineligible,” Turner says. “Make sure they go to class and get degrees, which is what college students are supposed to do.”