Academic Progress Rate threatens Georgia

Georgia's men's basketball and men's track teams would be subject to the loss of scholarships if a new NCAA academic standard went into effect this season. Fortunately for basketball coach Dennis Felton, track coach Wayne Norton and schools around the country struggling to make sense of the complicated new system, numbers released by Georgia on Wednesday won't count until the 2006-07 academic year.

The new plan is based on a formula called the Academic Progress Rate, which calculates how many scholarship athletes each sport is keeping eligible and retaining each semester.

Athletes can score four possible points each year. For example, an athlete who is eligible to compete each semester and remains in school for those semesters gets a perfect 4-for-4. An athlete who is eligible each semester but is not in school one of those semesters for any reason other than graduation gets a 3-for-4.

It's complicated, so here's a specific simplification: a football player could be eligible and play fall and spring, and he'd get four points. If he became ineligible for, say, the bowl game and was rendered ineligible for the spring but remained in school, he'd get three of four points. An athlete gets no points for being ineligible and not being enrolled.

Each sport is assigned its APR score based on the number of points its athletes amass divided by the maximum possible points. The cut line is 92.5 percent, a figure that was set because the NCAA believes a sport which maintains that number will have at least a 50 percent graduation rate.

An injury has no effect as long as the player is eligible and enrolled. Transfers, suspensions, and dismissals are the most common avenues of departure in this plan.

"All of this (new system) is pointing toward graduation," said Glada Horvat, Georgia's assistant athletic director for eligibility. "For coaches to pay more attention to it, you have to do something that takes away a scholarship to get their attention."

The new system has introduced a new buzzword into college athletics – an "0-for-2." Athletes are designated "0-for-2" when they aren't eligible for nor do they return for a semester.

Sports that fall below the cut line will lose one scholarship for one year for each "0-for-2" they have. (Sports such as baseball that can award partial scholarships will lose the equivalent aid of what their "0-for-2" athlete had.) Sports can't lose more than 10 percent of their available scholarships under the plan.

Georgia's football team has a score of 93 percent. As long as that number remains above 92.5, it and other sports cannot be penalized regardless of the number of "0-for-2s" they have.

All of the Bulldogs' data was taken from the fall of 2003 and spring of 2004. Schools will average their current score with the numbers from fall of 2004 and spring of 2005 to come up with the first number that counts. Schools will continue to average the scores until four years of data are available and then will use only data from the most recent four years.

The Bulldog athletic department has an overall APR of 94.3 percent, which is slightly below the national average of 94.8. Georgia won't know how it stacks up with the rest of the nation in specific areas until Monday, when the NCAA releases data for every Division I school.

Georgia received its scores Tuesday. The NCAA encouraged schools not to release the information until next week, but the Bulldogs were forced to hand over their information by a Freedom of Information request filed by The Telegraph.

"It's hard to say where Georgia fits in, but I think overall we did OK," said Carla Williams, the school's associate AD for student services. "We would like for everybody to be over the cut, but there are reasons some teams aren't. "Sports like basketball that have a small number of participants and therefore can be greatly affected by the fate of one athlete can take advantage of a "confidence interval," which allows them to be a predetermined distance below the normal cut line without being subject to penalties. (It's unclear if the confidence interval will be retained or changed once the system has four years of data to calculate, Horvat said.)

Four of Georgia's sports — baseball, women's basketball, women's tennis and track — would be subject to penalties if not for the leeway provided by the confidence interval.

Felton's squad scored an 85.3 percent last year, which is below the cut line and outside its confidence zone. If next year's numbers don't bring the average into an acceptable range and Georgia has any players who are not eligible and not retained, it will lose a scholarship for each of those players. However, teams can only be penalized for an "0-for-2" athlete from the previous year, so the dismissal of "0-for-2er" Steve Thomas, for instance, in the fall of 2003, cannot hurt the Bulldogs at this point.

The new rules will make it more difficult for basketball coaches who employ the fairly common practice of running off scholarship athletes who they no longer want. If a coach is going to dismiss a player from his team for any reason, he or she will have to make sure that player is eligible upon his or her departure or risk being penalized.

The rule will have the most impact on baseball teams, Georgia baseball coach David Perno said. Baseball teams often lose juniors to the Major League draft and also have a high percentage of athletes who transfer out, Perno said. Each of those players ineligible for the next semester when he leaves could count against a baseball team.

"It's going to be a challenge for baseball. That's the bottom line," Perno said. "The least they can do is tweak it for baseball."

The new system is the first phase of the NCAA's new academic incentive-disincentive program. The organization hasn't informed schools what their rewards will be for scoring well in the new formula, Williams said.

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