New academic standards to impact Pitino's team

There appears little doubt that Rick Pitino's program will be penalized under the NCAA's new Academic Progress Rate. In fact, under the new rule, APR will become just as important as the RPI. And the magic APR number for each NCAA team is 925, essentially meaning team's must graduate 50-percent of their players.

How can a program that graduates most of its players, placed seven members of the current team on the Honor Roll last semester and has a respectable team GPA be in academic hot-water with the NCAA?

That's the question Louisville coach Rick Pitino is answering right now. You see, Myles Brand, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and his NCAA cohorts have devised and are in the process of implementing their latest and greatest academic scheme, known as the incentives/disincentives program. First came prop-48; now comes the Academic Progress Rate.

Under the new rule, APR will become just as important as the RPI. And the magic APR number for each NCAA team is 925, essentially meaning team's must graduate 50-percent of their players or face penalties of scholarship limitations - and possibly more, including post-season bans beginning in 2006-07.

The new rule is extremely complicated but it is primarily being instituted to enhance both graduation rates and retention within athletic programs.

According to the NCAA's official website: (1) The APR is the real-time snapshot of every team's academic performance at a given time; (2) an APR score of 925 is what teams must meet to avoid contemporaneous penalties; and (3) teams below 925 will not be able to replace for one year the grants-in-aid of players who left as academic casualties during the previous academic year.

Walter Harrison, President of the University of Hartford and the chair of the group that devised the APR, acknowledges the new standards are "like announcing that we're going to have SAT scores for the first time and having nobody understand what an 1100 means."

"In time," Harrison added, "925 in and of itself will mean something, but right now, it's understandable that people are struggling to figure it out."

According to University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino, the new standards will spell trouble for his program - at least in the short term.

"It's going to hurt us badly because of one year (2003-04)," Pitino admitted. "I wish they would start (penalties) when they institute the rule because once we found out what they were trying to do we changed our whole mindset in recruiting."

Burned by players like Nate Daniels,
Pitino says the Cardinals no longer
recruit junior college players

One of those changes is that Pitino no longer recruits junior college players, the primary reason the Cardinals will be negatively affected by the new standards.

"We don't recruit the junior college ranks anymore," Pitino said flatly. "If you take the junior college players that we've recruited out of our program, our graduation rate is awesome and our grade point average is higher than at any point since I've been a coach. Last year, we graduated two of our players and this year we're graduating all three of our seniors."

Specifically, Louisville will be penalized under the new rules because junior college transfers Prileu Davis, Kendall Dartez, Nate Daniels and Nouha Diakite left the program before graduating. This despite the fact that seven of Pitino's current players made the honor roll last semester and the team's GPA has risen each of the past four semesters, an all-time high for the program.

"But according to what they're doing, we're going to be at the bottom 10-15 percent," Pitino said. "because we've had four junior college players who all left (before graduating)."

"But we had to do it (recruit JUCO's) until we built our brand," Pitino explained. "So based on what they're coming out with it's going to hurt us for a year. Then after we graduate these guys and in the future classes we'll be in great shape because in terms of graduation and grade point average we're doing a great job."

Until then, Pitino's program is likely to be one that is penalized under the new rule. There are numerous penalties that can be levied under the new rule but the primary consequence is a reduction in scholarships, the maximum in basketball being the loss of two athletic grant-in-aids for one-season.

"By limiting the amount of athletics aid included in the penalty, the contemporaneous penalties would serve as a catalyst to create change over the next several years where performance lags, but would not be overly punitive," Harrison said.

The Cardinals could be further hurt should junior forward Francisco Garcia enter the NBA Draft following the 2004-05 season. And even though he is in good academic standing and on track to graduate, U of L would be slightly penalized under the new rule.

"I'm not sure that's fair," Pitino said of the early NBA departure penalty. "But that's what you live with when the rules are made by more academically conscious people with the right thing in mind. What they are trying to accomplish is good. How they're going about accomplishing it probably needs to be tweaked as we go along."

Pitino sounds resigned to the rather harsh realities of life under the APR.

"We're doing great (academically)," said Pitino, "but our junior college recruitment is going to set us back with this system and there's nothing we can do about it at this point in time."

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