On Wednesday, the most recent APR numbers were released, and it held bad news not only for Jacksonville State, but 9 other NCAA men’s basketball programs, and five programs from the rest of NCAA athletics combined.
Just let that sink in for a moment. The NCAA hosts championships for over 30 sports, yet somehow, 2/3 of all schools given postseason bans due to the APR were given to men’s college basketball teams, according to CBS Sports.
How exactly does this happen?
Simple: The APR isn’t unfairly weighted against college basketball, simply because the teams are so much smaller than other sports.
Breaking Down the Numbers
Let’s look at the math for just a moment. And to do so…first, here’s an explanation of the APR score from the NCAA:
Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one retention point for staying in school and one eligibility point for being academically eligible. A team’s total points are divided by points possible and then multiplied by one thousand to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate score.
One thing not mentioned above…it’s 2 points per semester.
Let me attempt to break this down. Every player is worth up to four points in a given year. If they’re eligible at the beginning and end of the year, and stay in school they earn a full 4 points. Every semester they’re academically ineligible, they lose a point. Every semester they’re not in school, they lose another point.
Sounds simple? Well, transfers, and early exits can get kind of dicey, although the NCAA has tried to keep those from affecting schools as much as possible. Tried being the operative word…
But even without concerns about those issues…the line is razor thin, and getting thinner.
NCAA men’s basketball programs are allowed 13 scholarship players, meaning they can earn a total of 52 points in a given year. (13 points x2 points a semester x2 semesters in a year) To calculate the APR for a men’s basketball program, you simply divide the points earned by 52, and multiply by 1000.
Meaning a 900 APR, currently considered the current bare bottom floor needed to retain postseason eligibility, is 90% of the total points. 90% of 52…is 46.8
This means that men’s basketball programs have just over 5 points to play with in a given season. Since the APR is calculated as a four-year average, schools can’t lose more than 21 over a 4-year period to remain eligible.
While 900 is the “postseason ban” level…it’s rising to 930 by 2015-16. When that happens…they’ll have less than 4 points a year, and just over 14 and a half points in a four year period they can possibly lose.
If one player drops out of school, regardless of the reason why, it could cost the team between 2 and 4 points, depending on when it happens. If it happens in the fall, that’s over one-quarter of points a school can afford to lose for the next four years gone.
The reason this issue is so huge in college basketball is because the team is so small. In college football, you have up to 85 scholarships, meaning you can lose over 96 points over 4 years, and still have an APR of 930. One football player leaves school in the fall, that’s just 4% of your 4-year average.
There is also a secondary 2-year average that can be taken into account if a school fails the 4-year average, but of course, it’s a higher standard: it must be 930 currently, and 960 in 2015-16. 960 for a basketball program over two years means they can lose…4 points. That’s it. Four. One player can completely wreck it, by himself.
Contrary to the belief of the NCAA, there simply are players that will drop out of college, no matter what efforts a coach or school make. If you end up with one of those players on your football or baseball team, you can deal with it much easier than on a basketball team.
So why is the APR floor the same for every sport, when the penalty for the same infraction isn’t, due to the number of scholarship players?
Does College Basketball really have a graduation problem?
The NCAA mentions quite often that men’s college basketball has the lowest graduation rate of NCAA sports, and yes, on face that’s a serious problem.
It’s also one of the few sports in which players can leave for the pros after their freshman season.
When forced with a decision to go pro, spending 3 more years in college, especially to a teenager, is much different than spending just one more. But only men’s basketball players are faced with the prospect to go pro after just a freshman season; baseball players that do go to college, and all football players, have to wait 3 years.
And while, according to CBS Sports, players leaving early for the NBA don’t affect APR rates at their schools, they do affect graduation rates, obviously.
I do agree that college basketball should be looking to improve it’s graduation rate. But much like the analysis given above, every player that leaves college basketball early has about a 6 or 7 times greater impact on “graduation rate” than a football player.
And are there really 7 times as many football players leaving college early as basketball players?
Fixing the Problem
It’s not enough to just complain about the problem, not when there are solutions to fix it.
One is a simple, and I’ve already mentioned it: the APR should be sport specific. If college basketball, as the numbers suggest, really are in such a tough spot, why would you expect them to be able to dig themselves out of it as quickly as other sports? Eventually, maybe 10 years down the line, sure a flat-line APR would work…but until then, allow college basketball some much needed time to work itself out the hole it’s dug.
Second, make the “backup” 2 year average reasonable. 960 isn’t reasonable for a men’s basketball program over 2 years. It’s just not. Not if one player by himself can keep a team from reaching it.
Third, stop punishing schools one bad year. In Jacksonville State’s case this season, they’re struggling because the first year in their 4-year average was under 800.
The other 3 years…an average over 900. But they deserve a postseason ban.
Fourth, when a new coach takes over a program, why is he saddled with 100% of the problems of the previous administration? I understand you can’t clear the slate when a new coach comes in, else that would just be abused by every program facing sanctions, but if a new coach is in his 3rd year, and it’s clear he’s raising the bar above the previous coach, why is he getting punished? It’s happening this year.
There’s one major argument that goes against everything I say here, and it’s that’s women’s college basketball isn’t struggling the same way the men are. In fact, all 15 of the NCAA programs facing sanctions are men’s programs. I don’t think that means the APR rules do work for basketball, it simply shows the difference in mindsets from male and female student-athletes.
In the coming days, we’ll go deeper into the OVC’s numbers, and tell you if any schools could be looking at trouble going forward.