Athletes across the board either improved or held steady in their academic performance over the past year, but football and men’s basketball players -- as well as those at "low-resource" institutions and historically black colleges and universities -- are still lagging, according to new National Collegiate Athletic Association data .
And despite the small but steady improvement, 18 teams – three more than last year  and 10 more than the year before – have been banned from postseason play in 2013-14 because of low academic scores. On a call with reporters Tuesday, NCAA President Mark Emmert predicted that number will continue to rise as higher academic standards are phased in over the next few years.
An additional 36 teams face penalties including reductions in practice time or competition for scores that didn’t make the mark but were not low enough to trigger postseason suspension.
“If you can’t graduate half your student-athletes, you shouldn’t be worried about playing in championships or tournaments,” Emmert said. “There’s more important things for you to focus on.”
The average Division I Academic Progress Rate, in which scores are calculated over a four-year period (in this case, 2008-12) based on retention, eligibility and graduation rates, rose one point to 974. The NCAA has now been tracking APR scores for a decade, and the overall average has risen from an initial 961 in 2003-4. One-thousand is a perfect score.
This year the NCAA began phasing in a new minimum of 930, which it says equates to a 50 percent graduation rate. Until that takes effect in 2015-16, to be eligible for postseason play teams must hit at least the current 900 APR minimum this year and next, or a 930 average over the same period.
|Alabama State University||Baseball||864|
|Mississippi Valley State University||Baseball||820|
|Alabama State University||Football||866|
|Mississippi Valley State University||Football||810|
|Savannah State University||Football||876|
|Alabama State University||Men's Basketball||821|
|Florida International University||Men's Basketball||858|
|Grambling State University||Men's Basketball||878|
|Mississippi Valley State University||Men's Basketball||802|
|University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff||Men's Basketball||881|
|University of New Orleans||Men's Basketball||774|
|Norfolk State University||Men's Indoor Track||866|
|Southern University at Baton Rouge||Men's Indoor Track||866|
|Norfolk State University||Men's Outdoor Track||867|
|Southern University at Baton Rouge||Men's Outdoor Track||863|
|University of New Orleans||Women's Basketball||857|
|Alabama State University||Women's Volleyball||889|
|Florida A&M University||Women's Volleyball||897|
In football and men’s basketball, traditionally the lowest-performing sports, the averages were 949 and 952, respectively. The latter is up two points from last year, while the former stayed stagnant. (The NCAA's searchable APR database  sorts the data by institution and/or sport.)
Despite rapid improvement – a 15-point increase over the last two years, with a significant rise in retention rates – HBCUs still struggle with comparatively low APRs. This year, those programs averaged a 947.
“A lot of them have as their mission providing college opportunities for first-generation students who come from very modest backgrounds financially,” said Walt Harrison, chair of the NCAA’s Committee on Academic Performance and president of the University of Hartford. “I really like the mission of these institutions, and the challenge really is to provide them with the resources to help them achieve even better.”
While Emmert noted that the NCAA has dedicated $6 million to academic support for athletes at HBCUs, that funding is “certainly not adequate,” Harrison said, “given the task at hand.” However, he added that the improvement at those programs is “very reassuring.”
The NCAA also voted last year  to allow HBCUs and other “low-resource institutions” more flexibility in meeting the newly raised APR minimum and an extra year to do so, after NCAA members complained that they wouldn’t be able to make the 2015 deadline. Last year, HBCU teams accounted for four of 15 postseason bans. This year, they are responsible for 15 of 18.
“Teams need to take care of their academics first,” Harrison said, “and the great news about today’s report is that we can tell you they are, and that they’re having success as a result.”
Emmert also mentioned that in the past nine years, 11,500 athletes have returned to campus after finishing their athletics eligibility to earn degrees.
“One of the fundamental goals of the NCAA is to help students succeed both on the field and off the field,” Emmert said. “It’s clear that [the APR program] is changing the culture of intercollegiate athletics.”
Perhaps, but students aren't the only ones benefiting from rising APR scores. As USA Today  reported Tuesday, bonuses for coaches whose teams meet APR benchmarks can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.