Where APR falls short

No one wants to see semi-literate athletes get a free ride on the diploma express. No one wants to make a mockery of college academic standards by letting star players cut class on a regular basis. But the NCAA's latest band-aid -- the so-called Academic Progress Rate (APR) -- is not the answer ... not in its current form, at least.

The APR requires that each college sport maintain a 925 rating. This basically means that 92.5 percent of its athletes remain (A) enrolled and (B) academically eligible. If the rating dips below 925, the next athlete who leaves school in poor academic standing costs the program one scholarship for one year. Programs who remain below 925 for extended periods of time risk losing postseason eligibility, as well as scholarships.

According to figures compiled by The Knoxville News-Sentinel, only three men's programs at the University of Tennessee currently meet APR standards -- golf (981), track (932) and swimming (929). Football (920) is a near-miss. Tennis (906) is close. Baseball (885) has some work to do and basketball (852) has a ways to go.

Obviously, schools who make a minimal attempt to keep their athletes enrolled and eligible should be penalized. The problem is this: Some schools will be penalized because their athletes leave to pursue pro careers. Some schools will be penalized because their athletes leave to pursue better opportunities at smaller schools. Some schools will be penalized because they dismiss athletes for non-academic reasons.

Here are some examples that expose the shortcomings of the APR plan:

- Jamal Lewis decides to bypass his senior season of UT football. Drafted by the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, he becomes an all-pro and makes millions of dollars. Under the APR guidelines, however, he was an academic casualty.

- John Winchester elects to leave the UT basketball program rather than continue getting blisters on his butt squirming on the bench. He transfers to a small school closer to home so he can get more playing time. Under the APR guidelines, however, he was an academic casualty.

- Brandon Johnson is kicked off the UT football team for illegally discharging a firearm. Under the APR guidelines, however, he was an academic casualty.

Should head football coach Phil Fulmer have discouraged Lewis from becoming a millionaire? Should head basketball coach Buzz Peterson have tried to convince Winchester to stay in Knoxville for three minutes of playing time per game? Should Fulmer have allowed Johnson to remain on the team just because no one was injured by the bullet he fired?

Of course not. But, now that the APR guidelines are in place, those things are more likely to happen. It's all about keeping 'em eligible and keeping 'em in school ... at all costs.

Realistically, academic reform is needed. But the APR isn't the realistic answer.


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