INDIANAPOLIS — NCAA leaders are finally backing up their words with actions.
Less than 24 hours after President Mark Emmert called for immediate changes in college sports, the NCAA’s board of directors approved a measure that would include postseason bans if teams fall below the new Academic Progress Rate cutline. The new mark for the four-year rolling average will increase from 900 to 930. In October, NCAA leaders will consider when the new rules will take effect.
While the APR discussion was already on Thursday’s docket before this week’s two-day presidential retreat, it was the first chance university presidents could prove this time would be different.
“The very clear message from them (university presidents) was to start doing things now in August when you have the Division I board meeting and when you come back in October, in January, in April, this is something that needs to be done as Mark says in months, not years,” Oregon State president Ed Ray said. “I think they would feel very good with the actions the board took, and saw t hat we are moving quickly and responsibly forward.”
Yes, it’s only one step.
But it’s a big one. The board also voted unanimously to approve Emmert’s push to impose harsher penalties for teams that underperform in the classroom, including postseason bans if they fall below the cutline.
There will be more discussion on how to implement the new APR structure and proposed sanctions in October. Walt Harrison, president of the University of Hartford and chairman of the committee on academic performance, said he expects the penalty structure to be phased in during a three to five-year period.
And it’s likely any team with a four-year average will be ineligible even if the team score is improving. Current rules allow teams to be granted waivers if a team score improves significantly.
“That’s one of the things we’ll have to study between now and October, but the direction I’m getting from the board is not too much leverage there,” said Harrison, whose committee proposed increasing the cut mark. “If there is any appeal at all, it is going to be tightly defined and there may not be any.”
Emmert and South Florida president Judy Genshaft, the board’s chairwoman, also have bigger plans for down the road. They said Wednesday and reiterated Thursday the need for stronger sanctions for NCAA rule-breakers, a major edit of the massive 439-page rule book and tougher academic standards for incoming freshmen and junior college transfers. Other changes could include allowing schools to cover the full cost of attendance rather than just the cost of tuition, room and board, fees and books and providing scholarships on a multi-year basis. Currently, scholarships are awarded one year at a time. Those decisions could be left up to the individual conferences, but the NCAA would still have to approve the change.
Emmert hopes all of that can be approved within the next 12 months — a virtual whirlwind compared with the traditionally deliberative NCAA legislative process that can take years.
And even though Emmert has said he will rely on working groups, committees and NCAA leaders to devise formal proposals, the traditional way things have been done, the board of directors demonstrated Thursday that this is not going to be business as usual.
Instead, the changes are being fast-tracked.
“We need to do some serious reform and we need to do it at a pace that shows some serious intent,” Emmert said.
First up: The APR.
NCAA statistics show athletes graduate at a higher rate that non-athletes and academic performance has steadily improved among all sports The most recent numbers, released in May, showed the overall average score for athletes jumped three points to 970. Two of the lower scoring sports — baseball (959) and men’s basketball (945) — had a five-point jump over the previous year. Another lo w-scoring sport, football (946), had a two-point jump. NCAA officials have said a score of 900 correlates to a graduation rate of roughly 50 percent.
Emmert has applauded the improvements, especially the record number of 909 teams that finished among the top 10 percent or with perfect scores of 1,000. Each athlete earns one point per semester for their team by staying academically eligible and a second point for staying enrolled at that school.
Still, the NCAA leaders all believe athletes can do better in the classroom.
“What we’re hoping to do is to phase this in so all of our institutions and all of our coaches will have a chance to think about their particular circumstance and improve their APRs,” Harrison said. “Our experience has been that schools with greater resources can do that over a quicker period and that’s why we’re looking at a series of years to phase this in. We want to be fair to eve ryone.”
That includes teams struggling to make the grade under the current rules.
The list of penalized teams has skewed disproportionately toward historically black colleges and universities.
This year, the NCAA graded 340 schools. Twenty-four, or about 7 percent, were HBCUs. Yet of the 58 harshest penalties handed out, half went to teams in the two conferences, the Southwestern Athletic and the Mid-Eastern Athletic, comprised entirely of HBCUs. Four teams in those leagues were banned from NCAA tourneys because of their poor academic performance, and football teams at Souther n and Jackson State were even banned from playing in the SWAC title game.
Now, everybody is expected to hit an even higher mark to remain eligible for postseason tourneys.
“From a SWAC standpoint, we have to look at what we’re doing and definitely get our house in order. But I think our chancellors are working hard to get that done,” commissioner Duer Sharp said. “The NCAA realizes not everyone has the same resources and they’ve been receptive to our challenges.”
Some coaches think it’s the right move, though.
“I think it’s everybody’s responsibility to go to school and get an education,” Alabama football coach Nick Saban said. “That’s part of our program here. I don’t really see it being a big issue that players are held accountable relative to what their responsibility is to get an education.”
In other action, the board:
— agreed to do away with the single-year APR scores and will only use the four-year rolling average to determine postseason eligibility;
— agreed to continue providing funding for low-resource schools to help the academic performance of athletes and look at new ways to help those schools;
— decided to take another look at improving the standards for incoming freshmen and junior college transfers in October;
— agreed to consider including family members among the definition of third-party influences, a definition that also includes agents.
— decided not to permit conference or school television networks to broadcast any high school programming, a definition Emmert said will extend beyond athletic contests.