GRIZ GRIT: Academic Progress

By Beacon Staff

New academic standards instituted last month by the NCAA could completely change the face of the postseason basketball tournament. But initially it should not present a problem for the University of Montana.

Beginning in 2012-13 all teams must meet a 900 multiyear score, or average 930 for the past two years. In 2014-15 the bar will be raised, requiring teams to reach 930 on a four-year average or 940 for the previous two years.

The Academic Progress rate (APR) measures the ability to keep athletes in school, making progress toward graduation while maintaining GPA eligibility.

The NCAA estimates the figures represent about a 50 percent graduation rate.

For some five years the governing body, which is run by the institution presidents, has penalized sub-925 programs with scholarship cuts and those below 900, like Portland State University, have been subject to postseason bans.

According to UM men’s coach Wayne Tinkle his program has been hovering around 960 and could approach 1,000 this year, while the Lady Griz program seldom fails to graduate its players and few transfer.

The transfer situation presents a problem for some programs if a player transfers elsewhere and doesn’t graduate in a timely fashion, or, like UM’s Anthony Johnson, pursues professional sports prior to completing a degree.

The NCAA committee that oversees academics also is considering applying standards to teams participating in football bowl games or the postseason.

About 5 percent of the 340 Division I basketball teams failed to meet the criteria last season, including 10 teams that qualified for the NCAA Basketball Championships. Third-seed Syracuse (928) and eventual champion Connecticut (893) fell under the 930 mark.

The flaw in the APR program is it uses a five-year rolling window to determine the benchmark score.

Of course that penalizes current players in given programs who themselves may achieve a passing grade but are penalized by their predecessors.

In other words, if a team’s score was uncharacteristically low three or four years ago, the current roster’s class accomplishments may not raise the four- or two-year average to an acceptable level.

For example, the Los Angeles Times reports that men’s basketball champion UConn tallied an extremely dismal 826 RPI in 2009-10, which dropped its average to the aforementioned 893.

And while an anonymous source told the Associated Press the current RPI stands at about 975, that is not enough to raise the cumulative average to an acceptable level for competition.

To be sure, the new standards are headed in the right direction, but there must be a better way to raise the bar so it does not hinder current roster players as well as the recruitment of future prospects.

Traditionally at the University of Montana, the GPAs of athletes and the graduation rate exceed those of the standard student body.

That in itself gives the school a recruiting edge when academics is at the forefront of a recruit’s concerns. But admission standards in Missoula also enable competing schools to qualify student athletes that don’t meet UM requirements.

And win or lose, that’s the way I like it