Coaches Say New NCAA Academic Plan Is Flawed

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Five months before the NCAA plans to enforce the academic reform package its president, Myles Brand, called a "sea change" in college athletics, many top men's basketball coaches say they don't entirely grasp the new system, see significant flaws in what they do understand, and will not change the way they recruit players because of it.

Some even went so far as to say that maintaining a satisfactory Academic Progress Rate, or APR, was incompatible with trying to build a winning program in an era when virtually all top players turn professional before exhausting their collegiate eligibility.

"When I take a player, I am not going to be concerned about my APR," said North Carolina Coach Roy Williams, whose national champion Tar Heels lost four non-seniors to the NBA this spring, a development that will hurt the school's score under the new requirements. "I am not going to care about the APR at all. The fact of a guy leaving early for the NBA, that may be what I think about, but the APR is not what I will be thinking about."

The new reform package arose from concern over poor academic performance by student-athletes, particularly men's basketball players. It is intended to reward schools whose players perform well in the classroom and penalize those whose do not.

But while supporting its intent, many coaches say the APR's complex system, in which programs can be penalized for scores below 925 on a 1,000-point scale, seems to invite "what-if" scenarios and is full of confusing parlance such as "contemporaneous penalties" and "10 percent gap."

Baylor Coach Scott Drew, one of several coaches interviewed at a camp for top high school players in Hackensack, N.J., joked that he had to take a semester course in the APR before grasping it.

"It's like the salary cap in the NBA and NFL," said Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo, who acknowledged that he does not completely understand it. "You've got to have a capologist just to figure out the numbers. Instead of hiring an assistant, I'm going to hire an accountant for my next assistant job."

When a reporter asked Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar about North Carolina's APR score being adversely affected because four underclassmen left early for the NBA, Romar countered, "Not if they are in good [academic] standing."

Told that the Tar Heels would still be penalized one point for each player who left early, regardless of whether he was eligible, Romar acknowledged: "See, that's what I mean. It's confusing, very confusing," adding that he doesn't "totally" understand the APR.

University of Hartford President Walter Harrison, the chairman of the NCAA's Committee on Academic Performance, said: "It seems to me, the central message for coaches is, 'You'd better recruit students capable of doing academic work at your institution.' . . . That does not seem to me to be too complicated. Whether they have focused on it or not, they are going to have a vested interest in making sure their athletes are doing well academically."

Unwarranted Penalizing

Harrison's committee is expected to discuss significant adjustments to the APR next week in San Francisco, and recommendations will be made to the board of directors in early August. In December, the NCAA will for the first time notify schools of penalties for unsatisfactory scores.

"What we will try to do is come up with solutions that are responsive to legitimate concerns by coaches and students," Harrison said, "but at the same time not create a loophole big enough to drive a truck through."

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