When Scogin arrived on campus last May the academic situation he inherited was roughly as bleak as the talent situation new head coach Butch Jones inherited. Tennessee's team APR had dipped so far below the acceptable 930 standard that the Vols appeared certain to suffer NCAA penalties. These would include:
Loss of one or more scholarships for their 2014 signing class.
Loss of eligibility for 2014 postseason play.
Loss of some 2014 seniors due to relaxed transfer standards. The NCAA allows seniors to leave schools facing a one-year bowl ban without having to sit out a year at their new school. This is how Tennessee lured Malik Jackson away from Southern Cal four years ago.
After investigating the Big Orange situation at length Scogin gave Jones the news: Coming off a 917 APR score for the fall semester of 2012, the Vols needed a miracle to get to 930.
Normally a coaching change sparks a mass exodus of players, many of them with sketchy academic records that cause the program's APR to take a serious hit. Incredibly, Tennessee's first semester under Jones saw the Vols post a perfect 1000 APR last spring. Basically, that means 100 percent of Tennessee's scholarship football players (A) made passing grades and elected to stay in school or (B) departed in good academic standing or under extenuating circumstances.
"When you look at the impact of coaching changes on APR it's significant," Scogin said. "For him (Jones) to come in in January and have a perfect APR the first semester he's here, with a coaching change, is almost unheard-of."
That was the good news. The bad news? Even with the 1000 score for the spring semester Tennessee still was going to fall short of the four-year APR score of 930 to avoid incurring the penalties outlined above. Fortunately for Tennessee, the NCAA will make "adjustments," restoring lost points if a school can prove a player left under extenuating circumstances.
He is signed to a pro contract.
He is drafted into military service.
He is rendered mentally or physically unfit to continue playing.
He is faced with extreme financial duress (i.e. – both parents lose their jobs).
He encounters a death or a severe health problem in his immediate family that requires him to move closer to home.
The NCAA also restores lost APR points if a player returns to school and belatedly earns his degree.
Scogin and his staff spent the entire summer of 2013 examining the circumstances of every athlete in any sport who left UT in the four-year period from the 2009-10 school year to the present. If there were any points to be salvaged, Scogin & Company were going to salvage them.
"We had to go find some adjustments that hadn't been submitted previously," he said. "We had to find some delayed graduation points … guys that if we brought them back and they graduated that year you get a bonus point. We tried to cover all options, turn over every stone."
Ultimately, Tennessee submitted approximately two dozen adjustment requests, along with more than 500 pages of documentation. The NCAA approved roughly half of the requests, including five in football. Those five adjustments bumped the team APR to 932, two points above the minimum standard.
Scogin got the news as he was stepping onto an elevator at the team hotel in Tuscaloosa on the eve of the Alabama game. Checking his cell phone and noting an email from the NCAA office, he was so engrossed in it that he didn't notice his fellow elevator passengers until one of them chuckled. Scogin looked up from the email to see Butch Jones smiling at him. Jones' smile grew even wider when Scogin gave him the gist of the email: Tennessee football had met the APR qualifying standard and would not incur any penalties.
"He was pumped," Scogin recalled. "He wanted to do a press release that night."
No wonder. Tennessee would not lose any 2014 scholarships. Tennessee would not be banned from 2014 postseason play. Tennessee would not be losing a rash of 2014 seniors due to relaxed transfer standards. A lot of credit goes to some athletes who buckled down in the classroom. A lot of credit goes to coaches for establishing a greater emphasis on academics. And a lot of credit goes to Joe Scogin and his staff for finding ways to salvage every available APR point.
"I spent literally every waking moment the first six months I was here thinking about it," he recalled. "It was a pretty big task and a pretty big deal when we came in….
"We were making phone calls, chasing down former athletes and trying to get documentation, crunching numbers and still trying to serve the students that were here so we didn't lose a point from somebody deciding to leave during the summer. Our staff went through a rigorous, rigorous summer as we collected all of that information and evaluated everything that we did.
"I'm just so proud that we got the results we did and the effort was worth it when I got that email in that elevator."