The NCAA has announced their annual APR (Academics Progress Rate) figures, which has resulted in 36 Division 1 teams facing post-season ineligibilities. The 36 schools facing penalties versus 13 from last year is a nearly 300 percent increase in programs falling short of the NCAA requirements. However, despite the increase in ineligibilities and penalties that confront the schools, the overall numbers are in fact improving.
In 2003, the NCAA implemented the APR in response to troubling academic standards that reached a boiling point in the early to mid-1990’s. For example, only 51 percent of NCAA football players and 41 percent of men’s basketball players who entered college from 1993 and 1996 graduated. It raised a lot of eyebrows and forced the hand of the NCAA to implement reform to the academic requirements of college athletes. The reforms led to a renewed focus on academics and held programs and players accountable for retention, obtaining good grades and graduating.
Despite there being nearly three times as many teams that will be ineligible for the upcoming 2014-15 post-season, the figures were to be expected due to the higher standards that have now been implemented. Previously, for an NCAA team to avoid academic penalties, a team had to achieve a four-year APR score greater than 900, but in October, 2011 the Division 1 Board of Directors voted to increase the standard four-year APR measurement to 930. In addition to the teams facing post-season ineligibility, 57 schools will face penalties for failing to reach to two-year average of 940. While the numbers are rising when measuring the number of teams penalized and falling short of eligibility, the overall numbers are improving in college sports.
The most recent report returned an overall average score of 976, up two points from last year, with men’s basketball seeing the highest uptick, posting a five point increase from last year. The change in recruiting may play a role in the trend in numbers moving upward, as programs must now focus on the type of players that could eventually become part of an athletic team. Also, once a player has made their way onto campus a more concentrated effort to provide student-athletes with additional help and tutoring has also helped. The fear of failing to reach the minimum score has led to a renewed emphasis and focus on student retention and overall academic performance. The failure to meet the scores could result in a number of penalties, including: post-season ineligibility, reduced practice time, and fewer athletic scholarships.
The NCAA made great strides with the reform in 2003 and now more than a decade later, the numbers are slowly falling into place. While some programs still go through growing pangs and work to restructure their focus on academics with their student-athletes, the majority of schools have made huge strides in a the renewed focus. While the numbers on the surface appear to point to greater academic issues as more and more teams face penalties and ineligibilities, the big-picture is showing great success and improvement. An uptick in APR scores points to an increase in academic standards, and while it may take a few years for everyone to become more accustomed to the new standards and new scoring requirements, a renewed focus on academic excellence with college athletes appears to be heading in the right direction.
Commentary by Johnny Caito