Graduate or Else! - The effects of the APR

One of the biggest changes in the history of college athletics was the adoption of the Academic Performance Rate by the NCAA. It established goals for graduating student-athletes, and schools and their athletic programs are subject to severe penalties if they don't meet them. How has the APR changed college athletics? Just ask the people responsible for meeting those goals.

In Part 3 of the series "The Challenges of Recruiting," we take a look at how the APR has changed both recruiting student-athletes and their academic progress once they are enrolled in school.

Say you're a highly coveted athlete, and you've just chosen one school over all the others clamoring for your services. Now all you have to look forward to is competing as an athlete, and finding all those incredible parties everyone hears about, right? The reality of what being a student-athlete really means can be culture shock when a student walks onto campus and into a structured environment that, in many cases, fairly compares to the military academies.

The time demands on a student-athlete are daunting, with weight training frequently starting as early as 6 a.m.; then add to that class schedules, 20 hours/week of practice time during the season, study time each week, traveling to athletic events, and finally actually playing the sport in which they compete.

If you want your child to excel at the college level and graduate from college, one of your best bets is to encourage them to compete as an athlete in any sport at a major college. As previously stated, college student-athletes lead incredibly busy lives, and the structure and support provided for them to help them succeed academically in the midst of all their responsibilities is unparalleled elsewhere in academia.

It hasn't always been that way. The stories in the past of nearly illiterate athletes graduating from college after spending their school days focused primarily on athletics were often true. Today, the rules and enforced environment that both the schools themselves and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) use to guide college athletics are far too strict for students to merely skate by.

This series has focused on three different universities - South Carolina, Georgia, and Clemson - and how they currently are working diligently to help their student-athletes meet their academic goals and requirements, as well as stay eligible to compete athletically. The NCAA these days is making sure of it, with the Academic Performance Rate (APR) putting the bite in their bark. The APR measures academic performance and retention each fall and spring throughout their college careers.

One Bulldog who is in charge of keeping his students and his school away from that bite is UGA's Ted White. He is the director of Georgia's Academic Center for Student-Athletes, the Rankin Smith Sr. Center. He held a similar position at LSU before coming to UGA.

White said, "It has been incredible. The attention and emphasis now on academics I think is due to the APR. You are being measured now. You are being measured publicly, nationally. In the conference, everyone is going to want to know what that score is. What is the health of your academic program? It has been terrific in terms of getting people's attention on the campuses - at LSU and here - the attention of the administration on campus and the Athletic Department. We are fortunate here in that they pay close attention to it and that they are very determined that the student-athletes have a great academic experience, and that those numbers bear that out."

The head Bulldog regarding compliance with the APR is Glada Horvat, the Assistant Athletic Director for Academics and Eligibility at Georgia. "Coaches pay attention to it, I can tell you that," Horvat said. "We hope that they take that into account when they make recruiting decisions on students, because ultimately they're going to have to pay a price for students coming in and not being successful. I believe the APR makes them very careful about the students they choose to recruit. They still take academic risk, but they have to be careful that they are not taking a large number of them and people that they can be sure can "take care of business," and they're going to have to stay on top of those people too."

South Carolina Athletic Director Eric Hyman was emphatic about the impact of the APR on college athletics. "I've said all along that this issue has and will continue to have the biggest impact of my professional career. I don't know that people really grasp or understand it yet. Some people are, but I've been harping on it for nine years now. Why have I been involved in building two academic enrichment centers prior to coming here? There's a reason. How it's going to look like five years from now, I can't answer that question. There's no question that the APR is going to change the culture." Hyman is overseeing the development of a new academic enrichment center for student-athletes at USC as well.

Val Sheley, USC's Senior Associate Athletic Director, talked about the correlation between increasingly higher admissions standards and the APR, and how they affect both recruiting and the subsequent graduation of student-athletes. "The fact that we have higher admissions than the NCAA requires makes it more difficult in some aspects of recruiting. But ultimately, the process we have now will ensure that the vast majority of our kids that come here are going to be successful. You're always going to get one or two that will be a surprise. But I really believe that if they can meet the standards, with the help of the coaching and Academic Center staffs, and with the right attitude even the academically challenged can graduate."

South Carolina, Georgia, and Clemson all have a system of tutors and mentors for the student-athlete. Georgia has learning specialists like April Thompson to help their at-risk athletes. "I work with the student-athlete's learning disabilities and deficiencies, and teach them how to be successful in college." Thompson said. "Things that come easy for us, they have never done before - study skills like highlighting, or making note cards. We teach them those skills. We take their learning style, whether it is auditory, visual, or kinesthetic, and teach them the tricks of the trade that work based on their individual learning style."

Former NCAA official and current Clemson Athletic Director for Academic Services Becky Bowman took a slightly different tack on the APR. "I don't think that it's really changed how we do business at Vickery Hall," she said. "We've always set out to have a very comprehensive academic support service. We've always set out to help our scholarship and our walk-on student-athletes earn a degree, and we just continue to provide that support to them. We have a special program for some of our student-athletes who have come in at-risk because they haven't picked up all the tools that would help them be competitive in our academic environment here. We have a mentor program. We have an advisor that's assigned to every one of our teams. It really has not changed what we do."

The NCAA structured the APR as a way to be sure that Division 1 student-athletes are genuinely making progress toward graduation. It gives them added information on student-athletes and their academic performance so that they are able to better enforce the rules.

APR hurts a team when student-athletes don't remain in school, or remain but are ineligible. Each athletic scholarship student-athlete can earn a total of 4 points per year, 1 point for eligibility and 1 point for retention each fall and spring term. All the points are calibrated over a four year period and the magic number is 925. If a team's APR is 925 or over, they are fine. However, if the score is less than 925, a team can be subject to contemporaneous penalties. That means if you have any student-athletes left ineligible, that scholarship cannot be re-awarded to someone else for a year.

There are some exceptions. For instance, if a student-athlete leaves for a professional career, but is eligible when he leaves, he does not hurt his team. For example, Renaldo Balkman and Sidney Rice leaving their teams for a professional career did not hurt South Carolina because they were both eligible to return to USC. The other magic number is 900. If a team scores below 900, they are subject to historical penalties that get more severe each year the team score is below 900. This can result in loss of scholarships, practice/competition time, and eventually NCAA membership if a pattern of improvement cannot be provided over a four year period.

USC head football coach Steve Spurrier addressed a specific situation this spring when discussing two fifth year seniors, twins Dustin and Jordin Lindsey: "If the Lindsey boys pass and do what they're supposed to do, they've got a chance to graduate and play next year," Spurrier said. "They've got a little work to do to be eligible. But they certainly can do it. We're hoping they will. If they don't make it, it hurts your APR points."

Sheley wrapped up discussion of the APR by saying, "This isn't a flash in the pan that's going to come and go, and there isn't a way to get you out of this. When dealing with NCAA legislation, there are a lot of instances when a waiver can be sought. To some extent you can do that with APR, but the circumstances have to be extreme and you have to be able to show a plan for improvement. These types of waivers are going to be far more difficult to attain. If, at the end of the day, when all the points are added up and all the calculations are done, and a team is under 900 or a team is under 925, there is no waiver out of that."

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