NCAA Unveils Academic Progress Rate Scores, Howard and George Washington Among 171 Schools Sanctioned for Poor Academics

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 7, 2009

Howard University's football team and George Washington's men's basketball team were among 177 Division I programs sanctioned by the NCAA yesterday for failing to meet academic standards.

The Bison will lose one-half scholarship because of a poor Academic Progress Rate score, which measures how well a team returns academically eligible athletes semester to semester. The Colonials imposed their penalty -- the loss of one full scholarship -- this past season and do not face further sanctions, a school official said.

On a national level, yesterday's unveiling of the latest batch of Academic Progress Rate scores marked what NCAA President Myles Brand called a "watershed" because for the first time Division I teams will be banned from playing in the postseason because they failed to meet academic standards.

The Centenary College (La.) men's basketball team and the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga football team will be banned from postseason play for one season for chronic underachieving. Jacksonville State's football team also faces a postseason ban, but the school has appealed the penalty.

"When we have recruiting infractions and pull someone from postseason play, that is major national news and it is a big deal," Brand said. "Well, we are doing that on a regular basis starting this year for academic poor performance. It shows the depth and severity of the penalties for those schools and those teams that really can't bring themselves into conformity with academic performance."

Brand repeated that the objective of the academic reform package is to change behavior and not to merely punish and sanction. But in the past critics have noted that the majority of schools sanctioned in the marquee sports of men's basketball and football were teams outside the six major athletic conferences, and the same held true this year.

The football teams at Minnesota and Mississippi, which lost three scholarships apiece, were the only teams in power conferences to face penalties. Nine men's basketball teams from power conferences were subject to penalties, including Ohio State, which lost two scholarships for next year largely because of players leaving mid-semester to train for the NBA draft.

Walter Harrison, the president of the University of Hartford and the chair of the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance, said the issue of an imbalance in resources is a matter of concern to him as a president of "at best a medium-resourced institution." Harrison said those who play Division I sports have to make a funding commitment to supply academic support as well as athletic equipment.

"The institutions with the greatest resources had the time and the staff to understand some of the technicalities involved with the [Academic Progress Rate], and they got on some of these problems sooner," Harrison said. "However, what we are seeing in the last year or two is everybody else has figured this out by now. Everybody is improving, across the spectrum. Some of the schools with the greatest resources probably jumped out of the gate a little faster."

Over the past five years, the single-year Academic Progress Rate score in baseball has risen 31 points, while the scores in men's basketball and football have both risen nearly 18 points. Teams with an Academic Progress Rate score under 925, which equates roughly to a 60 percent graduation rate, are at risk for penalties.

"Coaches are starting to understand it better," Howard Athletic Director Dwight Datcher said. "I think you are starting to see a trend of everybody starting to improve on how to accomplish it and get it done."

Howard's football team lost nearly three full scholarships last year for a poor Academic Progress Rate score.

Datcher said he has seen noted improvement as school officials and coaches pay more attention to classroom checks for attendance and pinpoint at-risk players.

One bad year, however, can take several years to correct because the measurement is a four-year rolling average.

But the Bison had an Academic Progress Rate score of 919 this year, which encourages Datcher.

"You can't change it all in one year," Datcher said. "They release this every year, so every year it opens the wound back up. But we think we have it under control and are tackling it a little better."

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