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For Division I Schools, Academics Get Tougher

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 1, 2005; Page D01

Slightly more than half the 328 NCAA Division I schools could lose one or more athletic scholarships in at least one sport as punishment for their student-athletes' poor performance in the classroom under new academic standards set to take effect next year.

Among the teams at risk, if the standards were in place now, would be the defending national champions in football and men's basketball -- Southern California, which won the Bowl Championship Series title by defeating Oklahoma in the Jan. 4 Orange Bowl, and Connecticut, which rolled to the 2004 NCAA title in last year's Final Four. Based on data from 2003-04, both fell short of the NCAA's minimally acceptable Academic Progress Rate, or APR, which is a new measure of students' success in the classroom. Starting next year, the NCAA will use APR scores, rather than the standard graduation rates, to penalize teams that chronically under-perform in the classroom.

_____Area Report Cards_____

Based on the new Academic Progress Rate, NCAA teams with a score below 925 are at risk of losing one or more scholarships. Current data, from 2003-04, will be folded into data from 2004-05 to determine if a program is in good standing. Area scores:

MARYLAND

Men's basketball: 938

Football: 956

VIRGINIA

Men's basketball: 977

Football: 972

VIRGINIA TECH

Men's basketball: 929

Football: 938

AMERICAN

Men's basketball: 963

GEORGE MASON

Men's basketball: 857

G. WASHINGTON

Men's basketball: 981

GEORGETOWN

Men's basketball: 975

HOWARD

Men's basketball: 914

NAVY

Men's basketball: 984

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The NCAA adopted this approach after efforts to encourage, cajole and even shame colleges to improve graduation rates had little effect over the past 20 years. Now, it's using a stick to get results. That stick is the limiting of athletic scholarships: For each athlete who flunks out or leaves school in poor academic standing, a team could lose the right to re-award one scholarship for one year.

Punishments won't be meted out until December. But to help schools prepare, NCAA officials informed university presidents last week where their programs would stand if the rule took effect immediately.

Yesterday, the NCAA made that data public, releasing the APR scores of all 5,270 men's and women's teams in Division I, based on the 2003-04 academic year. It paints a troubling picture -- though a virtually inscrutable one, given the complexity of the NCAA's approach to the issue -- of the poor job that many of the nation's top football, baseball and men's basketball teams are doing in retaining their scholarship athletes.

According to the NCAA data:

• Slightly more than half of all Division I schools (51.2 percent) would fall below the 925 APR cutoff and be subject to scholarship reductions.

• 7.4 percent of Division I teams would fall below 925 and be subject to a scholarship cut.

• Sports that would be most affected are football (with 30.7 percent of teams below 925); baseball (23.9); and men's basketball (20.1 percent).

• Among ACC schools, three men's basketball teams fall below the cutoff (Clemson, Miami, N.C. State); one football team (N.C. State); five baseball teams (Clemson, Florida State; Georgia Tech, N.C. State and Virginia Tech); and three men's soccer teams (Maryland, N.C. State, Virginia Tech).

The NCAA's latest step in the academic-reform movement is being hailed by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a watchdog group that has long advocated a 50-percent graduation rate as a minimal standard for qualifying for postseason play.

"It's wonderful," said Wake Forest President Thomas Hearn, incoming president of the Knight Commission. "The fact is that coaches and athletes are competitive people, and when academic as well as athletic requirements are placed on their programs, the coaches will respond and the players will respond. In terms of achieving what we have been after -- namely, making an academic piece of the puzzle affect the athletic outcome -- we believe this will have important consequences."

George Mason Athletic Director Sue Collins also applauded the measure even though her school's numbers were disappointing. George Mason has five teams with sub-par APRs: Men's basketball, men's indoor track, men's outdoor track, wrestling and softball. Collins said she was particularly concerned about the men's basketball team's score, 857, which is well below the national average of 923 for men's basketball teams.

"We are very interested in seeing that score improve based on additional years of data," Collins said. "It's a fact that we haven't done a good enough job of retaining and graduating student athletes, so something needs to be done."


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