APR fears put transfer hopefuls like Setty in tough situation

by | CBSSports.com College Basketball Insider
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With Chris Lowery out at SIU, proper protocol is to allow players like Treg Setty to transfer. (US Presswire)  
With Chris Lowery out at SIU, proper protocol is to allow players like Treg Setty to transfer. (US Presswire)  

Treg Setty is being held hostage.

OK, so that may be semi-overdramatic. However, Southern Illinois' 6-foot-9 freshman isn't allowed to leave Carbondale. Not without a 2.6 cumulative grade point average.

It's not as if Setty is a brutal student. He has a 2.5 right now, the equivalent of a B-minus. However, it's not a 2.6 -- the minimum threshold for a school to avoid taking a hit on the APR (Academic Progress Report).

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Setty played about 16 minutes per game last season and averaged 4.4 points and 2.5 rebounds for the Salukis. His coach, Chris Lowery, was fired last month and replaced by Barry Hinson -- and proper protocol is to allow players who want to leave to transfer elsewhere following a coaching change.

That's no longer the case, though.

Setty has plenty of company and it's only going to get worse. Western Kentucky is doing something similar with freshman Vinny Zollo -- except that both Hilltoppers interim athletic director Todd Stewart and coach Ray Harper are, at least, allowing Zollo to talk to other schools and seem to be at peace with letting him leave even if he doesn't make 2.6 after the semester.

"It's important that all our players finish the semester strong," Stewart said. "But if you look at our history, we always do what's best for the student-athlete. When Vinny's situation is resolved, we'll clearly do what's best for Vinny as well."

But for now, Zollo is in a holding pattern. He was a role guy with the Hilltoppers and his official release, obtained by CBSSports.com and signed by associate athletic director Pam Herriford, states the following: "Your men's basketball staff has permission to contact Vincent "Vinny" Zollo regarding a possible transfer. He will not be granted a transfer release unless he maintains a minimum 2.6 cumulative GPA at the end of the spring 2012 semester."

"It's detrimental to me," Zollo said. "I can talk to other schools, but those restrictions make it difficult for anyone to take me right now. I don't think it's fair and don't understand why they are doing it. I'm eligible by the NCAA to transfer and should be fine."

Setty's situation is different, largely due to the desperate academic situation in which Southern Illinois currently finds itself. The APR is well-intended, but the consequences have trickled down and are negatively affecting student-athletes.

Setty has a new coach and wants to play closer to home in Maysville, Ky., after his mother recently had a significant health scare. But Hinson and his athletic director, Mario Moccia, are in a difficult situation, a full-fledged conundrum: Let Setty walk with a sub-2.6 and the program could face NCAA sanctions that include a postseason ban.

"It puts you in a precarious situation," Moccia said. "All we're saying is get a 2.6. If we just let them go, kids aren't going to get the grades."

Southern Illinois has actually denied the release to Setty and a teammate, all-league freshman Dantiel Daniels, who declined to speak to CBSSports for this story. His mother, Rosalyn Roberts, confirmed that her son has a 2.4 GPA and would like to explore other opportunities.

"I just want him to be able to go wherever he wants to go," Roberts said. "He wants to get out, but they won't let him without all these stipulations."

Dominique Ferguson was in a similar predicament at Florida International following the firing of his coach, Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas. According to sources, Ferguson's departure would mean that the school loses a point on the APR. Thus, FIU athletic director Pete Garcia refused to allow Ferguson his release and the talented sophomore has now opted to turn pro instead of remaining at the school.

The reality is that no athletic director or coach wants any of their teams to face a postseason ban. Just look at Connecticut. The same program that won the national title 13 months ago is now in danger of falling apart largely because the Huskies won't be allowed to play in the NCAA tournament next season due to dismal APR scores. Schools can handle reductions in scholarships, the loss of recruiting days. But a postseason ban is the one restriction that makes it difficult for coaches -- especially to recruit players.

But that shouldn't have any bearing on Treg Setty.

"All I want to do is talk to coaches right now," Setty said. "What am I supposed to do, just sit here and hope they eventually give me my release? It's just not fair."

"It's unethical, wrong and immoral," he added.

As Setty works in the classroom in an effort to obtain that 2.6 GPA, he watches names off the record-setting transfer list -- which is now closing in on 400 players -- make decisions on their future destinations.

"My options are already limited," Setty admitted. "And each day that goes by, they are less and less. All I want is my release and be able to talk to schools."

However, according to Moccia, the only manner that will occur is if he can get his grades to a 2.6. He's not going to budge. Setty told CBSSports.com that he thinks he currently has a pair of A's, a B and is struggling in his ethics class with either a C or D -- which could result in him falling short of the 2.75 he needs this semester in order to reach the magic number.

Both Moccia and Hinson said they will pay for tutors and summer school, but that's a small consolation to what Setty really wants as he waits for his appeal on Thursday: permission to speak to Division I coaches and ultimately the opportunity to continue his career elsewhere.

"I'm hoping, God-willing, that I can get a 2.6," Setty said. "But I don't think I should have to be sweating it out. It's wrong."

The intent of the APR, developed back when the late Myles Brand was running the NCAA, had no shortage of merit. However, it's flawed and needs tweaking. Not just due to situations such as what Setty, Zollo and Ferguson all find themselves in, either. Let's say a player has failed multiple drug tests or gotten into trouble with the law. If a coach dismisses him from the program with a GPA below 2.6, the school takes an APR hit.

"With Treg and Dantiel, we're in great fear that it's going to limit our program," Moccia said. "Is it fair for Treg? Maybe not, but is it fair for an entire program -- a team full of kids I want to see be able to play in the postseason?"

"I don't want to put the future of our program in jeopardy," he added.

So, instead he's penalizing a kid. By all accounts, a good kid who struggled a bit academically to acclimate himself to college as a freshman.

"He's paying for the sins of the past," Moccia said. "The NCAA has made it tough."

And guys like Moccia haven't made it any easier.

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