INDIANAPOLIS ― The wealthiest schools in college sports are cashing in with high academic performances. Others are paying a stiff price for sub-par scores.
The NCAA’s latest Academic Progress Rate numbers, released Wednesday, show that schools with less money continue to play catch-up even as athletes remain in school and work toward degrees at record rates.
“I think that’s been a proven fact,” Southern University interim athletic director Roman Banks said following the release. “When you don’t have the financial resources to put toward APR, it makes things difficult.”
Nobody understands the problem better than Banks.
His school from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had nine teams receive postseason bans for consistently underperforming in the classroom. The women’s bowling team also was penalized but avoided a postseason ban.
The men’s basketball team, which Banks coaches, is one of the school’s three programs that made the cut and now Banks is trying to clean things up. In the past year, he said the athletic department has found enough funding to create two new academic positions and two new compliance positions.
“One thing I want to make clear is the student-athletes are doing their jobs,” Banks said. “This has been a problem with the university and making sure we’re doing the right things with compliance and documentation.”
Southern is merely a symbol of the great disparity in college sports.
Of the 68 Division I teams falling below the 930 cutline, 81 percent were described as “low-resource” institutions and 85 percent were listed as historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) including Southern and 22 of the 23 teams facing postseason bans also were HBCUs. Thirty-seven teams avoided penalties because of filters the NCAA has added to reward teams that demonstrate significant progress.
Scores are based on a calculation that allows each athlete to earn one point per semester for being academically eligible and another point each semester for staying in school. A perfect score is 1,000 and the NCAA says a score of 930 correlates to a 50 percent graduation rate. The latest scores cover the years 2011-12 through 2014-15.
The NCAA is aware are of the financial disparities and the subsequent results. It already has allocated more than $15 million to help schools like Southern, and earlier this year the Board of Governors authorized a distribution of an additional $200 million to assist with more academic support.
“The goal of the academic performance program is to encourage academic achievement, not to punish those who don’t meet the mark,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement. “We will continue to work with schools and teams who don’t reach the 930 standard to make sure every student-athlete has the opportunity to succeed.”
All this comes at a time the NCAA is touting its academic successes.
The four-year average of 979 improved by one point over last year’s record high. Scores in football (959), men’s basketball (964) and women’s basketball (978) improved by three points each while baseball (970) had a one-point improvement.
Last week, Villanova’s national champion men’s basketball team and Clemson’s national runner-up football team received public recognition awards for excelling in the classroom. The Oregon State women’s basketball team also made the list after reaching the Final Four earlier this month.
Vanderbilt also had a strong showing with all 15 programs exceeding 975 and five receiving perfect marks.
The NCAA says since it started tracking Academic Progress Rate scores in 2003 that more than 14,000 former athletes have returned to school and earned degrees, and even the single-year averages over the past five years have produced significant gains among “limited-resource” schools, which went from 945 to 966; HBCUs saw a jump from 918 to 956.
“The ultimate goal of any student entering college is graduation, and I am glad to see so many more students earn their degrees,” said Ohio University President Roderick McDavis, chairman of the NCAA’s Committee on Academics. “We continue to encourage schools to reach out to former students and to support current students in reaching this objective.”
AP sports writer David Brandt contributed to this report.