AU, Others Preparing For Tougher Academic Rules

Auburn football and most of its athletic teams should be able to meet the new NCAA standards, but several teams need improvement.

Auburn, Ala.--If the NCAA's new stricter academic requirements were in effect this year, four Auburn sports teams would be adversely affected by the rules for the coming academic year.

The men's and women's basketball teams, plus women's golf and baseball, would be subject to losing scholarship aid for the 2005-2006 academic year.

Three other Auburn teams would have perfect scores under the NCAA's new academic performance formulas that penalize colleges that have athletes who are not making what the NCAA considers fast enough progress toward graduation or who leave school.

Auburn's men's and women's tennis, along with the men's golf team, have perfect 1,000 totals on their scores for academic progress rate (APR), which includes an eligibility/graduation rate as well as a team rate for retention of team members.

A 925 (92.5 percent of all scholarship athletes in good academic standing and still enrolled in school) will be required to avoid penalties.

By far the largest sport in terms of participants, football, is exceeding the national averages by a wide margin at Auburn. Coach Tommy Tuberville's team's academic progress rate (APR) of 960, based on the performance of 80 scholarship players, exceeds the national average for football, which is 921 at Division I-A schools and 913 at public universities.

Tuberville said that in anticipation of the new rules, Auburn football coaches spend more time researching the academic and academic work habits of prospects they are recruiting.

Auburn's overall APR for all sports is 944, six points higher than the national average for Division I public institutions. That number could go up when AU sends corrections to the NCAA on its scores next month.

AU's lowest scores came from women's golf, the result of two athletes leaving the program during the reporting period. Associate athletic director Mark Richard and faculty athletic representative Marcia Boosinger noted that in normal circumstances women's golf coach Kim Evans would have a high academic performance rating for her team based on its historical performance.

The APR is calculated by giving one point to an athlete for being academically eligible for a semester and one point for staying with the college. A team's APR is figured by adding the points achieved and dividing by the total points possible and multiplying it times 1,000.

The women's golf team has an APR of 861, an eligibility/graduation score of 833 and retention rate of 889.

AU officials also noted that the NCAA may make changes in its formula to take into consideration sports teams like golf with relatively few participants.

Men's basketball, which had four players transfer after the coaching change last year, scored an 862 APR, which would have cost the program a scholarship slot. Its eligibility/graduation score is 909 and retention score is 773.

Women's basketball, which suffered attrition with a coaching change, would have been subject to losing one scholarship with its 857 APR score. Its eligibility/graduation score is 857 and the retention rate is 893.

Baseball, which is expected to be the lowest scoring program at colleges that attract pro prospects, would have lost two partial scholarship slots under the formula. Because it is a sport in which partial scholarships are given, if a college loses two players who are only on 1/4 scholarship, the school couldn't replace those two 1/4 scholarships for one academic year.

At Auburn the baseball Tigers are at 879 for APR, 862 for eligibility/graduation and 897 for retention. The preliminary figures show that the average in baseball is expected to be around 910 for the nation. Because athletes in that sport can transfer to another school without sitting out a season, retention rates are expected to be a problem.

Auburn baseball, the basketball teams and women's golf would have been subject to what the NCAA calls "contemporaneous penalties" because of having what is called an "0-2" athlete who failed to stay academically eligible and left the university in that circumstance.

University of Hartford president Walter Harrison, the chairman of the NCAA panel which set up the academic performance standard, noted that the "contemporaneous penalties" are capped at approximately 10 percent of a sport's financial aid limit. For example, in baseball, which awards 11.7 scholarships, the cap would be 1.17 scholarships. In a sport that awards full scholarships, the 10 percent figure is rounded up to the next highest even number.

In basketball, which only offers full scholarships, two is the amount of scholarships that could be lost. In Division I football, the maximum "contemporaneous penalties" loss is nine (8.5 is 10 percent of the 85 scholarship limit).

Additional losses of scholarships called "historically based penalties" will kick in for college programs that fall below the 925 APR for multiple academic years. NCAA officials calculate that teams with a 925 score are on track to graduate at least 50 percent of the athletes on scholarship (non-scholarship athletes not figured into the equation.)

Complicating the process, the NCAA has added a "confidence boundary" factor for teams with few members. For example, a team with only 10 members that scores a 920 would be allowed a "confidence boundary" 20 points higher, which would put it at 940 and above the cutoff for penalties. Officials say this factor will likely be eliminated as more years of data are gathered and the NCAA becomes more confident in its statistical formulas.

NCAA officials say that in September this year, with two academic years worth of data available, colleges will then be subject to loss of scholarships, which will be taken in the 2005-2006 academic year unless all of the scholarship slots are being used. In that case the penalties would be applied to the next academic year.

Beginning with the figures received in September, the graduation rates will include athletes who transfer to another college and graduate there, something not reflected in the previous figures.

In the point system established by the NCAA, an athlete can receive four points for an academic year. If he/she completes the first semester (fall) and stays eligible that is worth one point. If he/she returns for second semester another point is rewarded. If the student/athlete completes the second semester (spring) in good academic standing he/she earns a third point. If that athlete still has eligibility and returns for fall semester for the next academic year he/she gains the fourth point. Then the process starts again for the new academic year.

Major athletic programs are taking the new standards very seriously. In addition to the contemporaneous penalties, a four-year rolling average of each team's academic performance will be calculated. These "historically based" penalties will include postseason play bans, further losses of scholarships and in severe cases restricted membership in the NCAA. The penalties will be incremental, starting with a warning to improve the APR.

In addition to the Auburn tennis teams and men's golf with strong showings, the NCAA champion swimming teams are doing well. The men's team has scores of 978 APR, 1,000 eligibility/graduation and 955 retention while the women's team has scores of 983, 983 and 982.

Women's soccer also did well. Coach Karen Richter's team scored 971, 981 and 962.

Other scores for APR, eligibility/graduation and retention for AU teams include:

*Men's Tennis (971, 1,000, 941)

*Men's Track and Field (indoor and outdoor) (923, 913, 933)

*Women's Cross Country (969, 938, 1,000)

*Women's Gymnastics (966, 966, 966)

*Women's Softball (965, 977, 953)

*Women's Track and Field (indoor and outdoor) (909, 860, 959)

*Women's Volleyball (911, 929, 893).

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