"But football is granted a waiver for circumstances," explained Brett. This has to do with the extenuating matters involved an un-named athlete whose departure would have dropped football below the 925 threshold. Men's basketball missed the target by more with a 901, which is barely above the old 900 standard that was in effect the first three years of the A.P.R. system. "That's the ‘historic penalty'," Brett said. "But because there were no 0-for-2s in that data there will not be a penalty." An ‘0-for-2' is a scholarship player who both leaves a program without graduating (one point) and leaves ineligible to play the next year anyway (another point).
Brett said that on the whole the Southeastern Conference did well in this round of A.P.R. grading, with only a few programs being penalized and most of those being percentages of scholarships. The NCAA is providing such data to media today. Penalties can range from tenths-of-a-scholarship in sports that don't give full grants, such as losing 0.02 of a scholarship which would roughly be a ‘books scholarship'; up to losing a maximum of 10% of an entire team's grants. For examples, football could at most lose nine scholarships (10% of the 85 limit, rounded up) and men's basketball two.
The reason Mississippi State's athletics and University administrations were optimistic about the May 2008 report is that all the graduation information was turned in back in September 2007. "In the fall we submitted this data," Brett said. "We do it five weeks into the fall semester. Then, it goes through a review period to verify the data; then there is a period to allow the institution to appeal or file waivers on penalties."
So what is being announced today has carried over from September, and is data from the graduating—or transfers, or dismissals—from the 2006-07 school year. "But institutions have known what these numbers would be since last fall," said Brett. "Just now it's being made public. Because of that many are confused."
The reason being that fans automatically assume this data includes the 2008 spring semester. It does not, so any loss of players to transfer, ineligibility, or dismissal is not calculated into the averages yet. It will be in the data submitted next September. That means that in the case of football the automatic dismissals of Mike Brown and Quentin Wesley for a campus firearms offense will factor into the 2009 A.P.R. calculations. So too will the transfer of Jamon Hughes this semester; as could the potential loss of Anthony Johnson and Rodney Prince pending final legal rulings this summer. If they can return to school, even without playing football, it will benefit the team's A.P.R. So would Brown working towards his degree, and he is taking summer course from the on-line University of Phoenix.
Already hovering on the edge of penalties, just like many of its national peers, MSU basketball is fortunate that Ben Hansbrough left eligible so he won't be an 0-for-2 either. But Jamont Gordon is a reason for concern if he not only does leave school for professional basketball but if his failure to finish the spring semester made him ineligible. That is unknown as of Tuesday, though earlier reports were that senior-to-be Gordon was in good shape for a fourth year with a sufficient number of credit hours already stockpiled.
"We won't know until the census in the fall if we kept the retention point in spring," Brett said. "This spring we've got the kids we kept from fall-to-spring; are they eligible (retained), that is going to effect next year's figures.
"The important thing is the mutli-year rate, and that's four years. What you've got now is the 2003-04, '04-05, '05-'06, '06-'07 data. Once we add the 2007-08 data in September, the '04 data drops off." Which, Brett expects will result in a better grade for football in particular.
"The first spring that Coach Croom was here (2003-04) disappears next year," he said. "You're A.P.R. number can jump two ways, and our graduation average this year will be higher. And if you get rid of a bad year of data it will jump, too."
The Academic Progress Rate is a system the NCAA came up with in 2004 to counter public and political criticism of college athletic graduation rates, or the lack thereof, in the two sports of most interest nationally. But all sports are graded with a formula that results in the arbitrary 925 standard. Essentially, it grades programs for how many of their signed scholarship athletes ultimately graduate from the school they enrolled at first. And the formula does not allow for players leaving school without graduating to play professional sports, which impacts baseball most followed by men's basketball and football. Though, players who return to school to finish degree work after their college playing careers end are factored in, and Mississippi State has already had a number of these.