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USC basketball gets penalty

Men's program lost two scholarships for 2007-08 over poor academic performance.

May 07, 2008|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

The USC men's basketball team was the only major athletic program in the Southland penalized with scholarship losses as the result of a poor performance in the NCAA's academic progress rate, according to information released Tuesday.

The Trojans lost two scholarships and were issued a formal warning after achieving a four-year APR score of 863, which was below the minimum acceptable threshold of 925. The minimum figure equates to a graduation rate of about 60%.

The academic data were collected from 2003-07 and measure student-athlete performance based on eligibility and retention.

Nationally, 700 of 6,272 Division I teams in all sports fell short of the minimum score, 174 teams were penalized with scholarship losses and 44 others were issued warning letters.

Teams that fail to achieve an APR score of 900 in three consecutive seasons could be banned from the postseason, and a fourth consecutive offense could result in banishment from Division I competition.

Among the 26 programs at the brink of a postseason ban are the football teams at San Jose State, Southern and Temple, and the men's basketball teams at New Mexico, Centenary and East Carolina.

USC chose to accept its penalty during the 2007-08 basketball season after being informed by the NCAA last fall that it faced scholarship losses, said associate athletic director Magdi El Shahawy. The Trojans had the option to defer the penalty until next season.

The Trojans were penalized in part because Lodrick Stewart, Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt stopped attending class after USC lost in the round of 16 in the 2007 NCAA tournament, a high-ranking school official with knowledge of the situation said. The official would speak only anonymously because of the confidentiality of academic records. The midseason transfers of Jeremy Barr, Kevin Galloway and Sead Odzic also hurt the team's APR.

"I knew that this was a possibility when I took the job and that things were going to have to be darn near perfect for us not to take a hit," said USC basketball Coach Tim Floyd, who inherited a team with the fifth-lowest APR in the nation when he was hired in January 2005. "We just had too far to climb and grow."

The USC football team achieved an APR of 948 and three Trojans teams -- women's cross-country, women's golf and women's soccer -- ranked in the top 10% of all scores in their sports. The UCLA men's basketball team achieved a 968 and the Bruins football team a 941.

El Shahawy said he was optimistic that the USC men's basketball team would avoid further penalties in the immediate future even though two underclassmen have declared for the NBA draft. O.J. Mayo and Davon Jefferson both attended class through the end of the semester and needed only to attain passing scores on final exams to become eligible for the NCAA's pro sport retention waiver.

"We've gotten it behind us and are moving forward," Floyd said. "As long as O.J. and Davon consider their teammates and finish their academics like they said they would, we'll be fine."

Sophomore Kyle Austin, who transferred to UC Riverside in December, will not hurt the Trojans' APR because he qualified for a transfer retention waiver by achieving at least a 2.6 grade-point average and transferring to another four-year school.

El Shahawy also noted that USC's 2003-04 APR score of 771 would not count against the Trojans in the next four-year tally, potentially giving their cumulative score a major boost.

"We feel optimistic that this time next year it's going to look a lot better," El Shahawy said of the basketball team's APR.

Other local teams facing scholarship losses included the men's soccer and wrestling teams at Cal State Fullerton, the men's soccer team at UC Santa Barbara, the wrestling team at Cal State Bakersfield, and the baseball, men's outdoor track, women's volleyball and men's soccer teams at UC Riverside.

The men's basketball teams at Santa Barbara and Cal State Northridge received warnings.

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ben.bolch@latimes.com

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