NCAA Releases Academic Ratings

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas' football and basketball programs would be on steady ground if the NCAA's preliminary academic performance ratings, which were released by the NCAA on Monday, were being enforced this year.

But smaller sports like baseball and men's track are a different story.

The university responded to the ratings, which were established by the NCAA to improve academic retention and eligibility of athletes as part of its landmark academic reform package. The numbers, which were calculated during the 2003-04 year and sent to schools last week, won't result in scholarship reductions for next season, but were released to help programs gauge their academic standing.

"The APR results for the University of Arkansas are viewed seriously by our coaches, our men's and women's athletics directors and me," said Arkansas chancellor John A. White, who is a member of the NCAA Board of Directors. "If the report is intended as a 'wake-up call,' it served its purpose.

"Since all institutions are being evaluated the same way and our coaches know how the APR system works, I am confident they will make the adjustments necessary to achieve satisfactory APR scores."

In all, Arkansas had nine of its 17 men's and women's sports score under the NCAA's cutline of 925. White said the NCAA selected 925 because it projects a 50-percent graduation rate over a 6-year period.

Baseball (784), men's cross country (827), golf (833), men's indoor track (865), men's outdoor track (867) and women's indoor track (886) fell below the cutline. Football (921), women's cross country (917) and women's outdoor track (914) also fell below, but are protected under a confidence boundary that won't penalize programs with fewer athletes than normal in their respective sports.

Assistant athletic director Paul Kirkpatrick, who is in charge of academics, also said there was an error in the football program's APR. Two eligible players were ruled ineligible and, when corrected, will place Arkansas' football rating at 927.

Arkansas' basketball program produced an APR of 958.

"When you're building a program, you don't just want to do it on the basketball court," said basketball coach Stan Heath. You want to do it in the classroom and off the court socially. Those three areas, I really see us doing a solid job."

Baseball and track are concerns. But Kirkpatrick said they still have a chance to pull their ratings above the cutline.

"(Baseball) will lose scholarships if we have anybody leave from that team in an ineligible status," Kirkpatrick said. "The way I've got track looked at, they've just got to make sure they don't have anybody leave that's ineligible.

"They're going to have difficulty making the (cutline score of) 925, not as much as baseball, but they will have some difficulty."

Kirkpatrick said the system limits a program's ability to make physical or character mistakes with prospective student-athletes. He added that sports with high turnover or transfer rates, like baseball, must "change the way they do business."

White said that could include coaches deciding not to award scholarships to border-line students, cutting back on partial scholarships and paying closer attention to students having academic difficulty, making sure they attend summer school.

But Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn said that's not the easiest thing for a sport that can award only 11.7 scholarships a season.

Partial-scholarship players that aren't happy, or can earn more scholarship money elsewhere, have the one-time freedom to transfer to another Division I school without sitting out a year. Players also become eligible for the draft after their junior season and, after being selected, leave school to report to a minor league team.

"I don't know what to say except we're going to do the best we can to retain kids, make sure kids are eligible and, other than that, we can't really do much when it comes down to the professional draft and telling somebody not to sign for X amount of dollars," Van Horn said. "I understand they want kids to graduate and so do we.

"I feel like we're doing all we can to be sure these kids get their degrees."

Because of those issues, Kirkpatrick said the APR could be adjusted for sports like baseball and track. Van Horn also was told the NCAA will re-evaluate the method in which scores are tallied in those sports and said it's necessary because successful baseball programs are "going to lose a lot of kids. That's just the way it is."

Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles said in a statement released by the university he was encouraged by the program's overall ratings despite a few areas of concern. Broyles said the said the ratings represent only a "shapshot of the program," but illustrates Arkansas' academic progress and commitment.

"Recent coaching transitions have resulted in some lower than usual numbers in a few of our programs, but I am confident that those numbers will rise as we continue on the right track academically," Broyles said. "Over the next few months, we will use this report to look for any potential areas of concern.

"If we identify issues that need to be addressed, we will act in a proactive manner to make any adjustments that would assist us in our academic growth."

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