ANALYSIS: What the APR score means for WSU

WASHINGTON STATE has been docked six football scholarships this year, and eight total, for failing to meet NCAA academic standards, WSU announced this morning following the NCAA's unveiling of the latest Academic Progress Rate scores for Division I schools. So what does that mean for this year, next year and beyond? Is the current recruiting class affected?

The incoming recruiting class was already taken into account and will not be affected. Indeed, Paul Wulff and staff knew when they arrived at WSU in December of the situation. Also, in replacing Bill Doba, they got a late start for their first WSU recruiting class, which could, along with the numbers of scholarships available, help explain why WSU chose not to appeal.

Wulff said on Signing Day some of the players announced could be grayshirt candidates -- not a surprise given that 23 of the 26 verballed or signed between Dec. 14 and Feb. 7, long after many schools had filled the bulk of their classes.

What is the APR?
In simplest terms, a team's Academic Progress Rate -- or APR -- is measured by the academic eligibility and attrition rates of its players over the last four years.

Many people think of the APR as strictly an academic barometer but that's incorrect -- it also has just as much, and arguably more, to do with retention. Indeed, the APR is the annual assessment by the NCAA of not just each team's academics, but also it's retention history.

Arizona and Oregon were both below the APR benchmark score, but either had no athletes who left school while academically ineligible or sought and received waivers — granted by the NCAA when there are mitigating circumstances and the institution has in the NCAA's view an acceptable academic improvement plan.

Each football team is graded on a 1,000-point scale. A score below 925 can result in the loss of scholarships BUT ONLY IF it also comes with a student-athlete departing the institution while ineligible.

The APR awards two points each term to student-athletes who meet academic-eligibility standards AND who remain with the institution. In the case of a student-athlete who meets academic-eligibility standards but decides to transfer in search of, for example, more playing time or to be closer to family, then the school is awarded only one point. In other words, if a player has a 3.25 GPA but leaves, for any reason, the school is punished, receiving one out of a possible two points.

Other potential pitfalls include when a player exhausts his eligibility, is in good standing with the university, but does not graduate in that term or the one immediately following it. If one of the Cougars who signed an NFL free agent contract recently, for example, left Pullman after the season to train and did not complete his degree in December, or in the spring semester, WSU would get just one point out of a possible two next season when the 2007-08 score is added in.

This helps in part to explain why Washington State has a poor APR score for this year despite a football cumulative team grade point average of 2.67 following the spring of 2007, the fourth-highest ever at Washington State.

A number of teams posted APRs beneath 925 but didn't draw sanctions because they had no athletes who left school while academically ineligible or their school successfully appealed. Among the sub-925 programs not hit, there were 16 in major-college football including Arizona, Oregon, Purdue and South Carolina.

There were six in men's basketball that have appeared in the Final Four since 2002 -- Indiana, Maryland, Ohio State, LSU, Oklahoma and Florida and 54 in baseball including now-No. 8-ranked Oklahoma State, No. 18 Coastal Carolina and five-time College World Series champion Arizona State.

Reasons why WSU chose not to appeal this year might be found in comparing the recruiting circumstances this year to last, the appeals process, looking ahead to next year and Wulff's solid track record with the APR.

If WSU had successfully appealed this year and was returned some scholarships to award this class, who would they use them on? Given the talent pool that existed last December, it would seemingly make more sense to instead appeal any potential next year penalties after the staff has had a full year to recruit. Because in looking at the numbers, it's a real possibility WSU will be below the NCAA threshold next year.

It is technically possible for WSU to put a monster score on the board next year and rise above the 925 threshold but realistically, that will be difficult. WSU would need a high score indeed when averaged with the previous three years' scores of 955, 921 and 874 to clear the 925 benchmark.

So say WSU does incur an APR penalty next year but this time chooses to appeal. The NCAA decides appeals based on the plan presented by the institution as to how they're going to rectify the situation. With a year under his belt, Wulff can then better show how he's accomplishing that. Wulff also has a solid APR track record at Eastern, posting a three year score of 944 over the last three seasons that data is available.

The story most reported will be that WSU is the only Pac-10 school to be docked scholarships this year (although Arizona scored a 902, see below) and that three of the past four years WSU has been under the 925 mark. But the story is also far more than just the numbers. And in some ways, the APR is a living, breathing contradiction.

WSU, for instance, has featured one of the most academically sound football teams in the Pac-10 over recent years and last spring produced its fourth-highest GPA ever. Yet penalties were handed down based on the NCAA formula.

In addition, the school is docked on its scorecard when players it has no control over -- seniors who have played their final down of football -- elect to leave campus before graduating. Similarly, the school gets dinged whenever a player transfers to another school in search of more playing time.

WSU student-athletes rank second over the last 10 years in the Pacific-10 Conference in graduation rate with respect to seniors who have exhausted their eligibility. The football team has graduated its student-athletes at a rate four percent higher than the national Division I average, which also ranks second in the Pac-10.

Washington State was docked a total of eight scholarships. Two of those were applied to the current academic year, with the remaining six allocated to the upcoming 2008-09 season.

The football team recorded a four-year average score of 916, nine points below the 925 benchmark mandated by the NCAA.

By falling below the 925 threshold, WSU cannot re-award that grant-in-aid to another player. That penalty is applied only when teams below 925 do not retain the academically ineligible player.

For the Cougs, the 2006-07 single-year score of 874 was a precipitous drop. The previous three years produced APR scores of 916 (2003-04), 955 (2004-05) and 921 (2005-06), which had resulted a three-year score of 930. That 955 mark was an excellent score, but it also must be noted that WSU was below the 925 benchmark in three of the last four years.

  • Three other Cougar sports did not reach the 925 benchmark -- men's basketball (905), baseball (921) and volleyball (923). But none of those programs lose any scholarships because none had a student-athlete depart the institution ineligible.

  • Next year's WSU basketball APR is expected to rise significantly. Dick Bennett's first season (2003-04) with WSU saw a men's basketball's APR score of 813, largely a result of a number of former coach's Paul Graham's players leaving or being ineligible. With the 813 removed next year, and with Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver, Robbie Cowgill and Chris Henry all graduating, the score is expected to be above 930 and will then average in with the three prior years' scores of 938, 923 and 942.

  • Arizona, which had been docked in recent years, received an APR score under the 925 benchmark, at 902. But they were not penalized this year "due to the team's demonstrated academic improvement and favorable comparison based on other academic or institutional factors," said the NCAA.

  • More than a third of the 329 schools in Division I had at least one team sanctioned. A total of 218 teams were affected, including two Bowl Championship Series entrants, Kansas and Hawaii, in football, and Sweet 16 qualifier Tennessee and five other teams coming off NCAA Tournament appearances in men's basketball.

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