Gophers Better Than Average In Classroom

The University of Minnesota Department of Intercollegiate Athletics earned a higher Academic Performance Rate (APR) than the national average, according to information released today by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

The Gophers' APR for the 2003-04 academic year was 965, while the overall APR for all NCAA Division I institutions during the same period was 948. The APR for all Division I public institutions last year was even lower at 938.

"We feel that the Athletic Department earned a passing score on the initial release of the APR," Director of Athletics Joel Maturi said. "This is a good starting point under a new system, but we will continue to work hard at improving our student-athlete retention and graduation rates. Student-athlete success academically is a top priority at Minnesota and something that is clearly outlined in our strategic plan."

Minnesota ranked fifth in overall APR among Big Ten institutions behind Northwestern, Illinois, Michigan and Iowa. As a conference, the Big Ten ranked third among BCS conferences and 10th nationally in average institutional APRs among all Division I conferences. In addition to ranking third among BCS conferences, the Big Ten average APR of 959 was also the third highest among all Division I-A football playing conferences, trailing only the Big East Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). The Ivy League ranked first among all Division I conferences.

"The Big Ten Conference academic standards for its student-athletes are higher than the academic standards of the NCAA and many of the other Division I conferences in the country," Maturi said. "That is a credit to the presidents, faculty athletics representatives, athletic administrators and coaches at institutions in the Big Ten. The conference prides itself on its high academic standards while being able to field some of the most nationally competitive athletic teams in intercollegiate athletics."

The APR is determined by using the eligibility and retention for each student-athlete on scholarship during a particular academic year. Student-athletes are awarded one point for each semester they are enrolled and one point for each semester they are eligible for intercollegiate competition. A student-athlete can earn four points during an academic year. Additional points are not given for student-athletes that graduate at the end of semester, but rather the student-athlete is awarded one point for retention and one point for eligibility. The APR is calculated by taking the number of possible points for a particular sport for the year and dividing that number by the total number of points earned from student-athlete retention and eligibility. The percentage is then multiplied by 1,000 to get the actual APR.

The purpose of the APR, according to the NCAA, is to provide a "real-time snapshot" of every team's academic performance at any given time. The NCAA will mandate that teams maintain a minimum APR of 925 to avoid contemporaneous penalties that may include a one-year loss of grant-in-aid for any student-athlete that leaves a school while academically ineligible. The institution will not be allowed to re-award to another student-athlete any portion of the grant-in-aid originally given to the student-athlete if the team's APR is under 925. The contemporaneous penalty will only apply when teams below 925 do not retain an academically ineligible student-athlete.

"There is definitely some time needed to fully understand the new APR formula and what it will actually mean," Maturi said. "I do think the APR formula is going in the right direction when you look at trying to improve graduation rates in college athletics. Retention and eligibility are the obvious factors that affect student-athlete graduation rates."

Earlier this year, Maturi formed the Graduation Rates Task Force with the goal of improving graduation rates and retention of Gopher student-athletes. The Task Force is in conjunction with the University's effort to improve graduation and retention rates among the general student body population. The Task Force includes student-athletes, members of the athletic department, University professors and individuals from the University's central administration.

"The APR is a good way for the task force to look at how the student-athletes are doing on a year-by-year basis," Maturi said. "We do not have to wait until we get the traditional six-year averages that are not reflective of student-athletes that are currently competing at Minnesota."

The NCAA will not begin enforcing penalties until a two-year average is calculated by using the current data from 2003-04 and future data from the 2004-05 academic year. The first year of contemporaneous penalties to NCAA member institutions could be applied for the 2005-06 academic year. Ultimately, the NCAA will determine the APR for each team based on a four-year rolling rate. Until that time, the NCAA will implement "confidence boundaries" to offset the issue of having to use small sample sizes in one and two-year averages.

According to the NCAA, small sample sizes of some teams can lead to reduced confidence in the APR as a determination of academic performance for those teams. Confidence intervals, or "boundaries," represent a range of scores within which the true APR likely resides. The NCAA will require that the "upper confidence boundary" of a team's APR would have to be above 925 to avoid contemporaneous penalties. However, the confidence boundary is a short-term tool and will be eliminated as more data are used in the next couple of years.

The Gopher football and men's basketball programs both received APRs below the 925 mark, according to the APR numbers released by the NCAA. However, both teams have an "upper confidence boundary" of 925 or higher that would eliminate them from any contemporaneous penalties. Football barely missed the 925 mark with an APR of 923. The NCAA has not made public its actual numbers for confidence boundaries, but rather which teams would be exempt from contemporaneous penalties by meeting the proper confidence boundaries.

"It is important to remember that the numbers released by the NCAA do include a small sample size," Maturi said. "We are at a stage where the decision one student-athlete makes can have a fairly large impact on a team's APR number. The timing of the information is very helpful in helping us determine how numbers are impacted."

Four Gopher teams did earn a perfect APR score of 1,000: women's basketball, women's golf, softball and women's tennis.

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