|If 10 postseason bans seems big now ... it could be reasonable by comparison five years down the road. (AP)|
Men's college basketball had some egg to wipe off its face Wednesday, when the NCAA released in totality the aggregate Academic Progress Rate scores from 2008 to 2011. In all of D-I sports, 15 programs fell below the score floor of 900, meaning those teams who put out a four-year median in the 800s aren't eligible to compete in any postseason format for the 2012-13 school year.
Ten of those programs -- most notably UConn, who is the first BCS school to earn a postseason ban via APR-instituted protocol -- are from men's D-I hoops.
(Cal State Bakersfield is one school in particular who is voraciously challenging its ruling.)
And if any of those schools weren't able to up their academic quotients from 2009 to 2012 -- a four-year examination period that just ended with this past school year, of course, and will be published/put into effect next spring -- then it will be lights out on the postseason again for those teams in 2014.
If you're late to the game here on the APR, it's the grade-and-graduating measuring tool that simplistically deduces how a program keeps its players in school and in good academic standing. You get one point if a player is academically eligible. You lose one point if a player flunks or drops out of school. You don't get punished if a player is drafted into the pros before graduating.
That simple tally is then superfluously multiplied by 1,000 by the NCAA for the sake of supposed seriousness (.960 just doesn't read as legitimately as 960, I guess) and we then arrive at a program's APR score.
Ten basketball squads out of nearly 345 isn't all that much (2.9 percent), but again, let's look at this from the scope of all D-I sports. No other NCAA-sanctioned sport came close to having so many crap out in the classroom (men's hoops' only mainstream/comparable brethren, D-I football, had just three teams receive a bowl ban). On the whole, all other NCAA sports programs have been able to adjust to NCAA protocol (the APR has been in existence for less than a decade), so why is men's basketball burdened with a bevy of dunce programs?
There is something to be said for the math. No NCAA sport has as many programs under one umbrella like the 345 squeezed beneath the sheer in D-I men's ball. The transfer culture has always been fused into basketball as much as or more than any other sport, and with the intra-sport transport of bodies blasting past 400 these days, it's inevitable more players will fall through the nets.
Still, it's a really bad look/stereotype reinforcement when males who play basketball embody the negative news of a college academics report. For all the hoops programs who did good or great (and we'll have an examination/highlight of those schools coming Friday here on the blog), the under-performing schools are too abundant to pass off as outliers or a miscreant minority.
Now comes a bewildering premonition: There's a very good chance we'll come to look at a time when 10 schools being ruled ineligible was reasonable, even diminutive. In the coming years, the base for good academic standing will not be as it stands now at 900, but at 930.
If that were the case this year? It wouldn't be 10 schools banned from the 2013 postseason, the number would be well over 60, or nearly one-fifth of D-I hoops. (The NCAA sometimes treats Historical Black Colleges and Universities with a different set of guidelines, given the HBCUs economical or pragmatic limitions in certain academic areas for bolstering students' chances at meeting one criterion or another. So it's not possible to definitely state how many schools would unquestionably be ineligible this year if the floor were 930. For example, schools such as Coppin State and North Carolina Central scored under 900 but are not banned from the postseason next year.)
Oklahoma State, Providence, Oregon, Auburn, Arkansas and LSU would be the BCS conference programs unable to play in their conference tournaments as well as the NCAAs next March. Murray State, that loveable program who flirted with an undefeated season in 2011-12, with its 927 multi-year rate from the previous four years, it'd be done once its 2012-13 regular-season campaign ended.
There are critics of the APR, as expected, but on the whole, the approach the NCAA is going with here seems to be working. Across the board, college sports saw another year of improvement with the most recent report. The UConn news made waves. A national program like that missing the postseason over grades has significant ripple effects. Yeah, some of those effects will come as criticism. Plenty hate the APR and think its flawed and/or the wrong way to legislate if teams get to play in the NCAA tournament.
I've always endorsed accountability, so if programs can't get their players to maintain basic responsibilities of going to school, slapping a year's worth of postseason punishment is fine by me.
And no matter how many schools appeal -- which will happen every year -- this watchdog system isn't going away. The NCAA has found a way to govern its member institutions with data that is basic, easy to understand and impossible to misinterpret. It's an era when cheating is prevalent in new and sneaky/undetectable ways.
The bad news is, what happens when a significant fraction of the sport can't keep up in the grads and grades race? Will the NCAA be OK if, in 2019, three major college basketball programs can't compete in the billion-dollar Bingo machine? Those will be the consequences of this legislation. Also keep in mind the requirements to get players into school will also soon be tougher. (The APR benefit: perhaps teams pass players whose grades and tests are too tough to overcome, so better student-athletes on the whole get accepted, thus grades and grad rates aren't as much of a problem)
There is economic damage to an NCAA tournament that's robbed of programs who could've potentially made the second weekend, or the Final Four. Picture it, say, seven years from now. Let's take a complete hypothetical. UCLA. Or maybe Michigan State. Perhaps both. Between the two, they've got five future pros on their rosters, but after finishing with APR scores of 924 and 926, they're not eligible for conference tourneys or the NCAAs. The schools roll to a combined 52-9 record.
And CBS/Turner won't get their presence because years ago the NCAA decided on an academic mezzanine that took dozens of teams out of their gyms at the turn of March.
The accelerated 930 baseline for acceptable academic performance goes into full-time effect in 2015-16. Will college basketball be able to keep up, or will the sport grow an academic bottom class based on evidence from APR reports? Think about that stigma. Think about how bad the reputation for the sport will be if more than 50 schools annually aren't playing for anything but pride from November to February.
Standards are needed, but they come at a price. I hope the NCAA is ready for it. And I hope the coaches and ADs at these programs are, too. The new requirements will not be sneaking up anyone, yet I can't help but feel well more than a handful of institutions will be overtaken by this once it becomes a reality. Just ask UConn. It's still in denial over this, yet we all could sense it coming for years. It's the actual punishment, not the threat of it, that get these schools' attention.