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Making the Grade Isn't Academic

NCAA's new ratings on classroom performance raise bar, and pressure, for every college team.

February 28, 2005|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

Built into the new system is a significant incentive. In the past, if a player became academically ineligible, it behooved the team to cut him or her loose, freeing up that scholarship. Now, the team is better off keeping the player enrolled in classes, thereby scoring an extra point -- did the athlete stay in school? -- on its APR report.

"We want schools to retain those students," said Kevin Lennon, an NCAA vice president. "That student has fallen off the academic wagon, but the institution says, 'We want you to get well.' "

Soon, the NCAA will introduce an additional yardstick called the "graduation success rate," or GSR. This will measure the percentage of athletes from a given team who graduate within six years.

The GSR resembles the U.S. government's current measure of graduation rates, but with adjustments that coaches have clamored for.

At present, if an athlete transfers in from another university, his or her eventual graduation does not count toward the team's percentage. Similarly, any athlete who transfers out or leaves school early to turn professional -- even with good grades -- counts as a dropout.

The graduation rate will give teams credit for anyone who transfers in or out in good academic standing. But the new program also carries stiff consequences for schools that do not graduate enough players.

The so-called "historically based penalties" include exclusion from postseason play and further loss of scholarships. Severe cases could even result in a school's being expelled from the NCAA.

But these "historical" penalties will not kick in until the 2008-09 school year. In the meantime, the NCAA has some kinks to work out of the system.

The association is still wrestling with adjustments to the APR cutoff line of 925. For instance, losing two players would doom a small team, while barely making a dent in the score for an 85-man football squad.

Officials are also considering a waiver by which some schools -- such as urban and commuter campuses with lower overall graduation rates -- are not held to the same standards as, say, Stanford or Harvard.

"That's a philosophical point that I don't know if our membership has ever wrestled down," Lennon said.

Whatever form the APR and GSR ultimately take, NCAA leaders hope that with today's initial report, athletic programs will adopt a different view of the relationship between athletics and academics.

"The goal is not to crush a program," Lennon said. "The goal is to change behavior."

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