With March Madness approaching, it is almost time for the airwaves to be flooded with commercials reminding us that most student-athletes go pro in something other than sports. In recent years, the NCAA has fallen victim to a number of academic scandals at some of its perennial institutions. To combat against this, this year was the first in which the NCAA instituted academic requirements for teams to participate in their respective championships.
The tool the NCAA has in place to measure the academic success of its member programs is called the Academic Progress Rate, or “APR.” Each student-athlete that receives athletically related financial aid may earn two points for his or her program: one for staying in school and one for being academically eligible. A team’s APR score is calculated by taking the total number of points earned by the team’s players and dividing that score by the number of points possible. This number is then multiplied by 1,000.
To participate in championship play this year, teams had to earn a minimum four-year APR of 900 or an average of 930 over the last two years. Demonstrating its interest in furthering the academics of its member institutions, the NCAA raised these numbers for the 2014-15 championships. Next year, teams must have a 930 four-year average or 940 two-year average APR. From 2015-16 on, teams must accumulate a four-year APR of 930 for championship play.
From a recruit’s perspective, a program’s APR is a factor that must be considered. On the surface, APR is important because amongst other things, it serves as an indicator of how well a program graduates its players. Due to the fact that a player’s staying in school is taken into account in calculating the score, a higher score demonstrates a team’s ability to hang onto its players. Given that most NCAA student-athletes go pro in something other than athletics, a program’s graduation rate should be heavily considered by recruits and their families.
Secondly, as noted above, APR scores now affect a team’s ability to participate in championship play. This year, nine NCAA men’s basketball teams are prevented from participating in NCAA championship play because of their low APR scores. Amongst these teams is the University of Connecticut, who actually won the NCAA men’s basketball national championship in 2011. Additionally, Townson who rebounded from last year’s 1-31 season to go 18-13 this year is precluded from championship play as a result of the team’s APR scores.
While a school’s academic reputation is a reason why recruits should consider APR in selecting a school, the potential championship ban may also be a detrimental factor to a recruit’s college decision. As noted above, by 2015, a program’s four-year APR average will be considered in determining whether it can participate in championship play. Because a four-year average is considered, unless a program with a below-average APR makes significant strides upward, a recruit signing with a program that has an ineligible APR score runs the risk of never being able to participate in championship play. With the amount of time players spend in practice and in competitive play, the possibility of not being able to participate in a championship because of a program’s academics will likely deter players from joining that program.
What should a player do if he or she is interested in a program with a low APR score? The most important thing is for the player and his or her family to ask the school, athletics department and program what they are doing to increase the school’s APR score. Likely, mechanisms have been put in place since the low APR score was assessed to increase the program’s academic performance. Amongst these things may be tougher academic recruitment standards and the hiring of more academic counselors. Both of these factors arguably would benefit future student-athletes. As such, recruits should not shut out schools with low APR scores until they follow up completely with the program to learn how it is dealing with the low APR score. If a recruit feels confident that the program and school have adopted measures to make academics a priority, the recruit should continue the conversation with the program.
Overall, the APR provides recruits and their families with one more piece of criteria by which they can rate prospective programs. Additionally, the APR provides programs with one more method by which they can rate recruits, as they work to ensure that potential student-athletes hold the skills and dedication necessary to graduate from their university.