“XXXXXXXXX” XXX XXXX, xxxxxxxxx
Southern men’s basketball coach Roman Banks describes his team’s situation with the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate like this: “You’re out of jail and free to do what you want to do, just don’t mess up again.”
Put differently, the Jaguars’ basketball and football squads — both hit with postseason bans last year for low APR scores — are eligible to compete for Southwestern Athletic Conference titles and are shaking off their other penalties, but the pressure is on to keep improving.
The NCAA released updated APR scores for all Division I teams on Wednesday, and when the dust from the data dump settled, it revealed an SU program moving in the right direction but with plenty of work left to do.
“It shows an institutional commitment to academic success,” athletics director William Broussard said. “Every year, it’s something we’ve got to continue to recommit ourselves to.”
This week’s scores represent a four-year average ending with the 2010-11 academic year. The results for this past season — when the school ratcheted up its APR efforts — won’t be available until next summer, but the numbers already tell a much happier tale than they did last year.
Then, seven teams were penalized for scoring below the NCAA’s benchmark of 900, including the football and men’s basketball reprimands that made Southern the first school to be handed postseason bans in two sports.
Of those seven teams, five showed improvements in 2010-11. Baseball (898), football (909) and men’s basketball (862) all made a 10-point jump, while women’s indoor track (914) went up by 26, and women’s outdoor track (906) leapt by 14.
The two previously penalized teams that suffered a drop in APR were men’s indoor track (fell from 884 to 879) and men’s outdoor track (fell from 886 to 875). Both squads received reductions in practice time.
Besides men’s track, the only other squad penalized this year was football, which lost 4.63 scholarships despite being above the line of 900. That was administrative rather than academic, coach Stump Mitchell said.
The NCAA granted Mitchell a handful of scholarships last year when he was facing more strict limitations, and this penalty amounted to them taking those back. This season, he will have 59 scholarships that can be spread among 80 players, compared to 54 scholarships for just 54 players last season.
The maximum for Football Championship Subdivision teams is 63 scholarships to use among 85 players. The football team’s score of 909 represents just one full season under Mitchell.
“We’re constantly going to move up,” he said. “Guys are graduating and moving up like they’re supposed to. The program is on the upswing.”
That’s the mantra throughout Southern’s athletics department, where APR is now as familiar a metric as wins and losses.
When Banks took over the men’s basketball program, he inherited an APR disaster. The team’s four-year rate stood at 852 after notching a 780 for 2009-10, but Banks swooped in and boosted the 2010-11 single-year score to 932, a whopping 152-point raise that’s just as impressive as the 13-win turnaround he engineered on the court.
Even though the four-year rate is still only 862 — and will remain low until the toxic scores drop out of the equation in a few years — the improvement was enough to prevent further NCAA actions.
Banks said he will have 11 scholarships for this season, compared to eight last year and the full complement of 13 he expects for 2013-14.
The APR topic isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
The NCAA is raising the benchmark score from 900 to 930 for eligibility in the 2015-16 postseason, but Southern and other schools categorized as “low-resource institutions” will have an extra year to comply.
Six SU teams hit that mark currently: men’s cross country (935), softball (944), women’s basketball (955), women’s bowling (939), women’s volleyball (961) and women’s tennis, which earned a commendation from the NCAA last week for its perfect 1,000 score.
Twelve SWAC teams (in football, men’s basketball and men’s track) were penalized this year, with the hardest hit taken by Texas Southern football, which got a postseason ban and lost both its spring game and spring practices for scoring an 811.
That’s down from 17 penalized SWAC teams last year, with the focus on trending in the right direction and preparing for the new 930 line.
After the most recent scores and beefed up programs for tutoring and study halls, encouraging signs abound at Southern. But there’s still cause for caution, especially for squads like Banks’ that have a few low scores still lurking in those four-year averages.
“One slip, and we’re back where we started with maybe a more severe penalty,” Banks said. “We’ve got bad scores out there. People need to understand what this office has to go through, and I knew it would be three or four years before we really turn that corner. That’s still the plan.”