The NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate: A Factor For Postseason Eligibility

The NCAA's Academic Progress Rate: A Factor For Postseason Eligibility

Postseason play is what makes sports great, especially in the NCAA. However, in college sports playing in the postseason is not a given. The assumed reasons for teams not being eligible for the postseason are not winning or that program broke an NCAA bylaw. NCAA sanctions have cost teams from being eligible for the postseason. However, a program could be ineligible for the postseason if they are not performing up to academic standards. Because of this, the Academic Progress Rate initiative was started by the NCAA.

APR Holds Universities Accountable for Academic Success

The Academic Progress Rate was an initiative that was adopted by the NCAA in 2004. The initiative holds universities to a standard of ensuring academic success for their students.  The NCAA’s official site says the initiative “holds institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term”.

The APR measures student-athletes’ academic progress by three factors:

  1. The student-athlete is receiving financial aid that is athletically related.
  2. By how long the student-athlete stays in school.
  3. What type of grades student-athletes receive.

The APR score is related to specific programs (football, basketball, etc.) within a university’s athletic department. The minimum multi-year score needed for a team to be postseason-eligible is 930. There have been programs who have struggled to obtain this score. A good APR score is 980, with the highest obtainable score being 1,000.

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APR’s Requirement for Athlete Retention is an Issue In College Football and Basketball

One of the factors that contributes to a program’s APR score being lower is that there are players that leave school early to go pro, especially in football and basketball. In basketball, a school truly cannot form a “one-and-done” team, in the case of college basketball, because of this rule. The rule impacts how coaches, such as John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski, recruit. Both Calipari and Krzyzewski are known for recruiting the top high school players, who go pro after one year.

To a lesser degree, the APR initiative also impacts the scores for football teams. Players can leave after they have been in school for three years to play in the NFL. The NCAA may need to amend the initiative, as the cases of players leaving school early in college basketball and football is becoming more common.

UCLA Men’s Basketball Team Able to Become Eligible for 2021 Postseason

On January 22, 2020, it was reported that the UCLA Bruins men’s college basketball team would be eligible for the 2021 postseason. They barely squeaked by the minimum APR score required to be eligible. Being eligible for the postseason is a big deal for first-year coach Mick Cronin. UCLA has been on the downswing as of late, so getting to the postseason is important in the early stages of Cronin’s tenure.

The Bruins currently have a 12-10 (5-4 Pac-12) record this season. They most likely have to win the Pac-12 conference tournament to be considered a threat for the NCAA Tournament. They also are dealing with the transfer of star recruit Shareef O’Neal. The Bruins signed Daishen Nix, a five-star Point Guard and number 20 in the ESPN 300, for next season.

Florida State Football Had Similar Issue in 2019

The Florida State Seminoles football program had a multi-year APR score of 936 in 2019. It was the worst score out of all of the football Power 5 schools. Jimbo Fisher left the program as Willie Taggart took over. This coaching change led to a lot of player turnover within the program. Player turnover hurts a program’s overall APR score.

Willie Taggart was fired by Florida State this past November, and the program hired Mike Norvell. There may be more player turnover because of the new hire, which stresses the importance of Norvell building a culture of accountability at Florida State. The Seminoles cannot afford to have low APR scores. Consequently, the prospect of not being eligible for the postseason may be a real possibility for the program.

The Future of APR

There are multiple factors that go into how the APR is calculated. That has made programs take the threat of not being eligible for the postseason seriously. It will be interesting to see if there are adjustments made to the APR model based on the number of players that choose to leave for professional leagues, most notably the NFL and NBA. There are numerous ways a player views their education, and if athletes start receiving more financial benefits from the NCAA, could there be changes to the APR model? For now, the model has proven effective, as programs have taken it seriously enough to be above the benchmark of 930.

LeBron James HBO Documentary ‘Student Athlete’ Exposes NCAA Racket

LeBron James HBO Documentary

On the night of one the most exciting preseason games of LeBron James’ career, he demonstrated yet again that he is “more than an athlete.”  On Tuesday night, LeBron James made his debut at Staples Center during the Lakers preseason home opener against the Denver Nuggets.  However, James’ “more than an athlete” demonstration did not take place on the court.  It took place on the airways in Americans homes’ as LeBron James HBO Documentary ‘Student-Athlete’ aired the same night on HBO.

The documentary is a searing indictment of the NCAA and the billion-dollar college athletics industry.  The documentary exposes the exploitative nature of the industry and the detrimental effect the system has on the lives of those the NCAA claims to protect.  It shows that the NCAA does not work to serve the best interest of “student-athletes.”  Hopefully, those who may have been “on the fence” in the “pay for play” debate will at least acknowledge that college athletics is in need of reform after seeing the documentary.

What is the NCAA?

The NCAA is the governing body for college athletics, and the colleges are member institutions of the NCAA.  The NCAA’s so-called purpose is to protect the well-being of college athletes and to ensure their lifelong success.  For years, the NCAA has failed to live up to this purpose.  The Student-Athlete Documentary drives this point home through the stories of those highlighted in the film.

The Exploitative Nature of the NCAA is Really Nothing New

For years, college athlete rights advocates have pointed out the hypocrisy of the NCAA’s model. The NCAA’s failure to deliver on the promise made to so many college athletes of looking out for their best interest.  The NCAA and its member institutions promise college athletes a meaningful education that will lead to a bright and prosperous future.  Unfortunately, for so many athletes this is not their reality.

The documentary highlights the story of Mike Shaw who suffered serious back injuries from basketball.  While he received a degree, he was unable to find a job.  He was forced to delay treatment for his injuries because he did not have insurance.  As a result, Shaw suffers from physical and mental health issues.  The NCAA essentially failed Mike Shaw as they failed to help him prepare for and transition to life after basketball.

If the NCAA wants to ensure lifelong success for its “student-athletes,” they must do a better job of helping former athletes transition to life after their sport.  The NCAA could accomplish this by allowing the athletes to receive the full value of their worth in college.  There are several ways the NCAA could achieve this.  One way is for the NCAA to adopt some variation of the Olympic model.  Doing this would allow college athletes to earn more of their worth.  It would place them in a better financial position to transition to life after sports.

Why is the NCAA so Powerful?

Although the NCAA does not acknowledge it, college football and basketball is a pseudo minor league for the NFL and NBA.  Many high school athletes seek to make it to D1 college athletics in hopes of making it professionally. This is what makes the NCAA so powerful.  College athletics is the track to the NFL and NBA. However, the athletes are not as free as they may seem to leave college and go professional.  The documentary made this point when it highlighted the story of Silas Nacita.

Nacita played football for Baylor University until he was declared ineligible.   Nacita, who was homeless, was declared ineligible when he accepted housing from his friend’s grandparents.  The grandparents had no interest in football and only wanted to help someone who was in need.  As a result of this, Nacita was not able to complete his last year of college eligibility. He was subsequently declared ineligible to for the NFL draft. To be eligible for the NFL, the player must have been out of high school for three years and must have used all of their college eligibility.

As was shown in the documentary, those rules did nothing to help Nacita.  They actually hurt him.  He was not able to compete in college and was not able to be seen by NFL scouts because of rules set by the NCAA and the universities.  Nacita was in a no-win situation all because the NCAA and their member institutions work to ensure college athletes receive no benefit for their athleticism other than a scholarship no matter how dire their need.

The Documentary Will Hopefully Foster Conversations that Will Lead to Reform

After watching LeBron James HBO Documentary, it is clear that college athletics still needs reform.  Little changes have been made, such as the allowance of cost-of-attendance scholarships, but that is not enough. The NCAA has made it clear that their primary focus is protecting “amateurism”  and their bottom line instead of “student-athlete” well being. Viewers should watch Student-Athlete with an open mind. They should try to see that the NCAA’s primary objective is not what it claims. After watching, viewers will hopefully acknowledge the need for college athletics reform.