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Coaches Say New NCAA Academic Plan Is Flawed
Teams can only be docked a maximum of 10 percent of the total allotment of scholarships, meaning that no more than two scholarships can be taken away for a year in men's basketball. Because many programs do not annually field a team comprising 13 scholarship players, coaches said, penalties would hurt a program's perception more than hamper its ability to compete.
U-Conn. Coach Jim Calhoun said 10 players from his program have left early for the NBA draft during his tenure, and three may do so in 2006.
"So, in your judgment," he said, "would Connecticut not be doing its job" academically because of a lower APR score?
Harrison said coaches' "fears will be put to rest" after adjustments are recommended during next week's meeting, adding: "The APR was not meant to discourage students from turning professional. I'm much more worried about four or five times the number [who leave early for the NBA] who just drift away from college every year or, in the vernacular, just flunk."
The reform package has promise, Boeheim said, because if an athlete stays for three years before turning pro, at least a program would receive some points for retaining him six semesters. In past measurements of graduation rates, there was no difference between an athlete who left after one semester and one who missed graduating by a few credits.
How to account for players who leave early for the pros remains a challenge for the NCAA, even though Harrison said there could be an automatic waiver for players who leave early for professional leagues.
For example, Brand said during last season's Final Four that he did not think a program should be penalized if a player who was eligible when he was last in uniform left school the final few weeks of the semester to pursue a professional career. But the task of determining a player's academic performance mid-semester is difficult, Harrison cautioned, because "colleges don't keep running tabs on how students are doing. . . . How would a faculty athletic representative be able to determine that?"
Some coaches also said that maintaining a satisfactory APR score could be at odds with enforcing discipline. Cincinnati Coach Bob Huggins asked a reporter whether he should dismiss a player who fails multiple drug tests even though it would hamper the program's APR score.
"I believe you should dismiss him," Huggins said. The APR "undermines discipline."
Harrison, in response to a scenario in which a player gets dismissed or expelled because of drug problems, said: "Should the team lose the [retention] point for that? That's a good question. I don't know. . . . That's another issue [discipline] we are going to have to sort of draw the guidelines on."
Said Georgia Tech Coach Paul Hewitt: "Anytime you have a rule that has 30-40 different waiver possibilities, there is something flawed in the rule. There are so many real-life scenarios that have been brought up that the people who put together the rule never thought of because they are not involved in the day-to-day operation of an athletic team."
For example, two Arkansas-Little Rock basketball players graduated after the fall semester but returned to school in the spring to finish the season. They left school after the season to pursue professional careers, which negatively affected the team's APR, Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Wright Waters said. The NCAA declined the school's initial appeal, Waters said, but then agreed to review the case.
"Our suggestion was that after you graduate you should then be taken out," of consideration for the APR, Waters said, "and we say, 'Congratulations.' But that will never happen."
And former U-Conn. player Tony Robertson returned for a fifth year of school while still on athletic scholarship but after his eligibility was exhausted, only to drop out and negatively affect the Huskies' initial score released in February, Calhoun said.
Huggins said if he had an "African kid, [who] came in crying, mother was dying and he went home, I'm penalized for that. There's an appeal process, but what am I supposed to do, fly to Africa to get medical reports?"
Said Harrison, "These are real students with real problems and I would hope, as the NCAA, we can be flexible enough to deal with them."
Some coaches, such as Calhoun, praised Brand's efforts for attempting to understand the coaches' perspective. But Izzo called the reform plan "ridiculous. . . . I'm embarrassed that coaches, in a way, are thought of so small that we have to put standards on. I don't know who thinks a coach would not want to graduate a kid. Are we punishing 5 percent again -- I am tired of that."
To other coaches, the reality is this: "I can have a 1000 APR every year," Boeheim said. "I can graduate every guy. I won't be coaching here very long. You're not going to win."