INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors agreed Thursday to give some schools an additional year to meet new, more rigorous academic standards tied to postseason eligibility.
Low-resource institutions won’t have to hit the four-year average of 930 on the Academic Progress Rate until 2016-17, one year later than all other schools. And though the two-year averages will be waived for the low-resource schools, all institutions must maintain a four-year average of 900 to be eligible for championship events each of the next two seasons.
In a statement issued Thursday, NCAA President Mark Emmert said the governing body had an “obligation” to help those schools make a successful transition.
But NCAA critics believe the delay will only prolong an inevitable push to do anything to keep athletes eligible.
“I think what the lower-resource schools are going to do is turn into more eligibility brokers where they’ll advance academic support in some areas but the main goal will be to keep kids eligible,” said David Ridpath, an assistant professor in sports administration at Ohio University and past president of the NCAA-watchdog The Drake Group.
“I think when you look at it, the focus of NCAA athletics at any school is to keep kids eligible, so you see kind of a path of least resistance toward eligibility,” he added, explaining the numbers can be skewed by the degrees and courses student-athletes pursue and even the professors they take.
Board members headed home after the quarterly meeting and were not immediately available for comment.
The 18-0 vote revises the legislation that was originally approved in October. That measure established two requirements to be eligible for postseason play in 2012-13 and 2013-14: A four-year APR average of 900 or a 930 average on the school’s two most recent reports. By 2014-15, schools that fall below 930 would have to hit 940 on their two-year scores to be eligible. In 2015-16, the two-year average disappears and schools must have a 930 average over the four-year period.
Now low-resource schools, primarily historically black colleges and universities, must maintain a four-year mark of 900 each of the next two seasons. The cutline increases to 910 in 2014-15, 920 in 2015-16 and 930 in 2016-17. Two-year averages would not matter. They also will be required to submit a “meaningful APR improvement plan.”
Low-resource schools are defined by the NCAA as those ranked in the bottom 15 percentile, based on the combined average of institutional spending per student, athletic expenses per student-athlete and the average Pell Grant per student. Schools from the Football Bowl Subdivision cannot make the list.
The APR is calculated by adding the number of points accrued each semester by scholarship athletes on each team. The athlete receives one point per semester for staying in school and another point each semester for remaining eligible.
“It’s important to look at a variety of options and be as deliberative as we can to ensure our actions facilitate success, not limit it,” Emmert said in the statement.
Tougher requirements already have impacted Connecticut.
School officials have said their two most recent APR scores would keep the men’s basketball team out of next year’s tournament. Earlier this month, the three-time national champs lost an appeal to count this year’s scores in the two-year average, numbers that will not be final until the end of the school year but likely would make them eligible. Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called the rejection “absolutely outrageous” and members of the state’s congressional delegation are asking Congress to further examine the NCAA’s policy.
Connecticut athletic director Warde Manuel said Thursday that giving low-resource schools a break was the right thing to do. But he also said the NCAA needs to give other schools a break. He said UConn will miss the tournament only because the NCAA changed its rules retroactively, deciding in October to use scores that had been recorded before the school knew of the consequences.
“I’m hoping the committee will realize they can’t do this with any rule — academics, playing rules, anything,” he said. “You can’t change the rules midstream with anything just because it’s what you decide to do. It’s not right, and I hope they continue to have conversations to find a way to step up and evaluate the data sooner or allow more time to pass before they implement this rule on the membership.”
But Ridpath doesn’t expect the ban to be lifted.
“UConn’s case is probably final, though I will say it’s interesting that UConn is the first big-time school that is really going to see an APR penalty,” he said. “I think if most coaches can reach that Holy Grail, winning a national championship, they’ll take that trade-off and I think that’s what happened at UConn. UConn is now going to get ‘punished’ and I don’t think that’s going to change.”
Emmert said Wednesday that neither he nor the board is worried about schools challenging the measures, even in litigation where the governing body has had a spotty record.
“If there’s concern on the board, they haven’t mentioned it to me,” he said. “I think the board feels very comfortable with where they are on the 930 mark.”
The board also approved a one-year delay on tougher standards for incoming freshmen.
In October, the board increased the minimum GPA from 2.0 to 2.3 and said incoming freshmen needed to complete 10 of their required 16 core courses before their senior year of high school. That was originally set to go into effect in 2015. Now, it will be pushed back to 2016.
“We want to give young people a fair chance to meet the new standards by taking core academic courses early in their high school career,” board chairwoman Judy Genshaft said in a statement. “The presidents have every confidence that future student-athletes will do the work necessary to be academically successful in college.”
But the board rejected a proposal for a one-year delay on tougher standards for junior college transfers. That means, starting in 2013-14, junior college transfers must have a 2.5 GPA and could only count two physical education credits toward their initial eligibility at a four-year school.
Board members also heard three proposals regarding the $2,000 stipend toward what the NCAA calls the full cost-of-attendance — money that goes beyond tuition, room and board, books and fees. That legislation was approved in October but was suspended in December after more than 100 schools asked for an override vote.
The proposals would:
— Allow each school to provide up to $2,000 whether on full or partial scholarships, though the money would be limited to the proportional cost of a full scholarship;
— Base eligibility for the stipend on demonstrated need as established by the Free Application for Student Financial Assistance;
— Allow each school to use the student-athlete opportunity fund to pay out the $2,000. Schools could then supplement those funds by up to $2,000 per scholarship.
Emmert has said he and the board still want to implement the stipend. No vote is expected before the board’s August meeting, when the board could also take action on an edit of the massive rulebook and a new penalty structure.