Drawing the Line

The NCAA laid down the law for teams that consistently underachieve in the classroom.
August 4, 2006

The National Collegiate Athletic Association approved rules Thursday to mete out penalties for Division I teams that don’t get their academic act together over a four-period.

The Division I Board of Directors decided that teams with an Academic Progress Rate score below 900 each year for the four-year period that concludes at the end of the 2006-7 academic year will be eligible in 2007-8 for “historical penalties,” which could include ineligibility for postseason competition.

The APR for a team is calculated by dividing the total number of points earned by the players on its roster -- an athlete who stays academically eligible for a full year gets four points, and one who flunks out in the first semester gets zero, for example -- for the year by the total number of points possible, then multiplying by 1,000.

Walter Harrison, president of the University of Hartford and head of both the NCAA’s Committee on Academic Performance and the NCAA Executive Committee, said that historical penalties are “for the worst of the worst.”

Harrison added that, in 2007-8, the first year with historical penalties, about 0.5 percent to 1 percent of Division I teams -- about 120 teams -- are expected to be susceptible to penalties. Teams with small numbers of players will have added protection in that first year, so that one player can’t sink them right away. But that protection (known as the "small squad adjustment") will disappear the following year, and Harrison said he expects about 2.5 percent to 6 percent of teams to be eligible for penalties in 2008-9.

With the new penalty structure, some major sports programs could be in trouble. The NCAA found that Division I basketball teams, in the 2003-4 academic year, had an average APR of 906, not far above the red line. The University of Southern California’s basketball team, for example, had a score of 761.

Harrison added that teams eligible for the historical penalties could still possibly avoid them. If a team is eligible, its institution can seek to have the team reviewed in comparison to other Division I teams in the same sport. If the team is above the bottom 10th percentile of teams in its sport, it could help the team’s case. Additionally, if the athletes on a team have an APR that projects to a graduation rate at least 10 percentage points higher than other students at the institution, the team could be looked upon favorably. Other factors, like improvement, will be factored in.

Colleges “will still have the opportunity to cite specific factors that might have affected their score,” Harrison said. “The real key factor to remember is that there’s a 900 cutoff, but if you’re improving, there are other factors.”

Other key announcements by the governing boards of the NCAA's various divisions Thursday included:

  • The appeals of the College of William and Mary (the "Tribe") and McMurry University (Indians) to keep their American Indian themed mascots and still be eligible for post-season play failed.
  • Division II inked its first television network agreement, in which the College Sports Television Networks will broadcast some regular season football and basketball competitions.
  • The Division III Presidents Council and the Executive Committee will recommend to its members to continue the moratorium on adding new members to Division III until January 2008.
  • The Division I board stood firm on its April decision to allow graduate students with remaining eligibility to transfer and be immediately eligible at the new institution. According to an NCAA press release: "The presidents acknowledged the possibility of a 'free agency' market with this new pool of student-athletes but agreed that the legislation correctly assumes that graduates will make their decisions based on where they want to attend school, not on where they want to play games."

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