NCAA Grades Coaches

August 6, 2010

Hoping increased transparency will encourage head coaches to take seriously their players’ academic performance, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has released a searchable database of the Academic Progress Rates of all teams coached by current and former Division I coaches in six major sports since the NCAA introduced the scoring system in 2003.

A team’s APR is determined on a 1,000-point scale based on whether its athletes remain academically eligible to play and if they progress toward graduation according to NCAA expectations. The NCAA uses the four-year average of these scores to levy penalties against teams and institutions whose athletes are underperforming in the classroom.

In January 2009, NCAA officials announced their intent to create a database that would easily allow users to see how teams performed academically under individual coaches. In addition to providing access to year-by-year APRs — only a database of four-year averages was available — NCAA officials hoped to create a specific APR that would follow a coach from institution to institution throughout his or her career. This would serve as an academic “career batting average” for coaches, as one official put it.

Thursday, the NCAA finally unveiled the new database of single-year APRs for baseball, football, men’s and women’s basketball, and women’s indoor and outdoor track teams, which is searchable by coach name. Though the database sheds new light on how well athletes perform academically under the leadership of individual coaches in certain years, it does not include the so-called “career batting average” for coaches, showing the mean APR of teams under a particular coach.

Walter Harrison, chair of the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance and president of the University of Hartford, said the “career average” idea was scrapped because of concerns as to how the data is collected and whether such a measure would have been fair. For instance, any coach who holds his or her position during an academic year — from August 1 through July 31 — is assigned that team’s APR for that year. In these instances, the databases notes years in which multiple coaches were assigned to a team and assigns the APR to each coach.

“You can draw your own conclusions” from the list of a coach’s single-year APRs, Harrison said of how database users should judge the academic influence of a coach on his or her players.

Still, Harrison said the availability of these year-by-year figures to recruits and their parents would provide them with valuable information to make a decision about whether to select one individual institution or coach over another. He added that it would also enhance the “culture of academic preparedness and accountability” in college athletics.

For example, Harrison noted that, in new contracts for coaches, a growing number of institutions are setting APR benchmarks that head coaches’ teams must maintain. Though such decisions are left up to individual institutions, he said he supported the idea of setting such expectations in coaches' contracts.

There are no individual penalties associated with the new listing of team APRs by coach. And though some critics have expressed concern that existing APR penalties, levied against institutions, let coaches who presided over academically underperforming teams off the hook, Harrison said he was “comfortable” with there not being coach-specific penalties at this time.

“We’re calling attention to the success and relative success of coaches,” Harrison said. “I believe that’ll have a good effect informing people and informing transparency.… I wouldn’t favor going further.”

Many coaches, however, are not pleased with the new database and the attention it draws to them. Some of their ire, in particular, is focused on the NCAA’s view that “most people in intercollegiate athletics agree that the head coach is the primary influence on a student-athlete’s success in college.”

Jim Haney, executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, noted that his organization has concerns about the fairness of the APR, particularly in instances where there are multiple coaches for a single team. And his doubts do not stop there.

“Another concern is creating and making public a coach’s APR insinuates that the academic success of student-athletes at any institution is on the coach’s shoulders and the coach could be cast in a negative light,” Haney wrote in a statement to Inside Higher Ed. “The success and performance of a program is really a body of work affected by institutional decisions. While the spotlight is on the coach, others at the institution are responsible for funding and providing support.”

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