NCAA Approves Changes in Academic Policies

Athletes who go pro or leave for other reasons won't count as failures in measuring progress toward a degreee.
August 8, 2005

The NCAA's crackdown on Native American images and icons dominated the headlines, but the association's governing bodies announced several other significant policy decisions Friday. The NCAA:

  • Adjusted its new policy on academic progress so that Division I athletes who leave college in good standing to enter professional drafts or for other certain reasons do not count negatively in the rates that measure their colleges' success in educating students.
  • Determined what the penalties will be for those Division I institutions at which academic progress and graduation rates are repeatedly at the “extreme” low end of the range for NCAA members. After a warning the first year, those chronic offenders would face scholarship and recruiting limitations in the second year, the offending team would be ineligible for postseason competition in the third year, and all teams at the college would be barred from NCAA playoffs in the fourth year.
  • Said it would let its members vote in January on whether to overturn a set of scholarship increases for women's teams, after nearly a third of Division I colleges objected to the measure. That vote would be the first ever attempt by Division I members to "override" a decision of its Board of Directors since the NCAA shifted to a representative governance structure in 1997.
  • Directed all NCAA member institutions to review their policies on alcohol advertising and marketing during their television broadcasts and in their stadiums and arenas.
  • Extended the contract of Myles Brand, its president, through 2009, and instituted a set of "indefinite" two-year extensions for Brand.

At its meeting Thursday, the results of which were announced Friday, the NCAA's Division I Board of Directors approved a set of recommendations made by the association's Committee on Academic Performance, which has been primarily responsible for crafting the NCAA's broad new policy aimed at ensuring that athletes make progress toward a degree.

Under the policy, institutions will be assessed by their performance on two key measures: an Academic Progress Rate (APR), which measures the proportion of a team's athletes who complete each academic term in good academic standing and still enrolled, and a still-to-be-unveiled "graduation success rate." Teams face two sorts of penalties: "contemporaneous" penalties if their APR falls beneath a certain line in a given term or terms, and "historical" penalties if their APR and their graduation rates are consistently among the worst in the NCAA.

When the NCAA gave a first glimpse at how colleges fared under the new Academic Progress Rate in February, many institutions did not fare well, and among the complaints from coaches were that the system took "retention" points away when athletes who were otherwise in good academic standing left for the professional ranks. So the NCAA's Committee on Academic Progress proposed, and the Division I Board of Directors approved, a change so that athletes who leave college to go pro or because of a range of other things considered to be "beyond the control" of the athlete or the college -- the institution drops the athlete's academic major or his or her sport, there's a death in the student's family -- the athlete's departure will not count as a failure. (The NCAA also listed reasons an athlete might leave that would NOT warrant an exception from the academic standard, including lack of playing time, a coaching change, academic or disciplinary suspensions, or loss of his or her athletic scholarship.)

Walter Harrison, president of the University of Hartford, who heads both the Committee on Academic Performance and the NCAA executive committee, said at a news conference Friday that the change would "fairly treat these student athletes who turn professional. Sensitive to the suggestion that the changes might water down the NCAA's accountability standard, he noted the "small number of students" it would affect. "In terms of what we're really trying to do, to achieve serious academic performance," it's hardly a factor, he said.

The Board of Directors also provided the first look at how it will assess colleges' "historical" performance under the new academic progress system. Although the Committee on Academic Performance has yet to define what counts as poor performance, the NCAA did announce the penalties that could be imposed, beginning in 2009-2010, on institutions found to be what Harrison called the "worst of the worst offenders."

The "scholarship, recruiting and playing time" limitations that the NCAA would impose after the second year that a team's APR and graduation rate badly trailed its peer institutions, Harrison said, is "meant to be a real message to the Board of Trustees and the CEO of the institution that this team is not performing as it should." After a third year of significant underperformance, the team would be barred from postseason play, and if a team lagged for a fourth year -- which Harrison described as extremely unlikely -- the college's entire sports program would lose playoff eligibility.

The NCAA board also approved, "in concept," a package of public relations and financial incentives for teams that perform well on the two NCAA academic performance rates. Harrison said that although details still need to be worked out, the idea is for the NCAA to reward both institutions that do well consistently and "those that improve."

Putting Financial Aid Limitsto a Vote

Another action by the Division I Board of Directors Thursday set up a now-rare showdown between the powerhouse programs in Division I and those programs that have less. Such conflicts used to happen to all the time when the NCAA had a one institution, one vote governance structure in the 1980s and early 1990s, but have been unheard-of since the governance structure changed in 1997. Division I-A, which features universities that play big-time football, holds 11 of the 18 seats on the Board of Directors, which is made up of college presidents.

In April, the board approved legislation that increased the number of scholarships that Division I programs can offer in four women’s sports: gymnastics (from 12 to 14), soccer (12 to 14), track and field (18 to 20) , and volleyball (12 to 13). The changes were scheduled to take effect in August 2006.

But the change was not uniformly popular. Although advocates for women’s sports supported it because it would add opportunities for women to participate in Division I sports, offering more scholarships is expensive (at a time when costs are outpacing revenues for many if not most Division I sports programs), and the smaller Division I-AA and I-AAA programs frequently argue that rules changes that allow colleges to spend more money will allow the bigger, wealthier programs to snag more of the best athletes for themselves, widening an already sizable gap in competitiveness.

So last month, 116 votes, all members of Division I-AA and I-AAA, voted to override the increase in sports scholarships, invoking for the first time an NCAA policy that suspends a rule passed by the Board of Directors if 100 or more institutions vote to override. On Thursday, the Board of Directors declined to vote again on the matter, deciding instead to put the scholarship change up for a vote at the NCAA's January convention.

"The override action," Harrison said, "is an appropriate part of the democratic structure within the NCAA."


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