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Jason Belzer
 

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NCAA’s new Academic Progress Rating cutline disparately impacts HBCUs

This past Thursday, after a retreat of member university presidents, NCAA president Mark Emmert announced that teams will be required to average a 930 Academic Progress Rating (APR), calculated over a four year rolling basis, to be eligible for the NCAA post season. Aside from the fact that this is the most significant legislation that the NCAA has passed in recent memory, and the first to address growing concern amongst a lack of academic focus in intercollegiate athletics, the legislation will have significant implications for teams vying for postseason participation.

If the legislation was in effect during the 2010-11 season, 12 teams would have been banned from participating in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, including the likes of Purdue, USC, Ohio State, Syracuse and Kansas State. Considering that the majority of the NCAA’s billion dollar operating budget stems from its television rights agreement with CBS to broadcast the tournament, and one cannot deny that the NCAA has effectively “put its money where its mouth is” by potentially banning such high profile teams from participating in the postseason.

Additionally, most outside the coaching profession have applauded the NCAA for finally making academics a top priority. In the past, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had advocated that the NCAA ban teams form participation if their graduation rates fell below 40%. After the new cutline resolution was passed, Arne issued a statement “Applauding the NCAA’s decision and encouraging them to proceed with due speed… many experts were skeptical that the NCAA would ever move to deal with the problem of low graduation rates… they were wrong. College presidents have acted courageously and are leading the way.”

Although college president’s will revel in the spotlight of their progressive thinking and suddenly decisive action after years of inattentiveness, when looking over the data and its implications, one cannot help but ponder that the NCAA may have either unintentionally burdened a select group of schools more so than others, or more likely (and far more alarming), found a convenient way to eliminate programs that have added little value to the NCAA tournament.

In calculating the eligibility of teams under the new 930 APR standard, and using the available APR data the NCAA provides for the last six years, one comes to a startling discovery – the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) would not have had a single team eligible for the last 3 NCAA tournaments, and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) would have had 1 team out of 10 eligible during the same period! In fact, from a statistical perspective, with 10 teams over 3 years, the SWAC had a measly 13% chance of placing an APR eligible team in the tournament, while the MEAC with 11 teams had a definitive 0% chance of placing an eligible team in the postseason!

 

SWAC

2011

2010

2009

Alabama A&M

922.75

927

929.25

Alabama State

905

914.5

923.75

Alcorn State

940.75

944.25

946.25

Ark – Pine Bluff

910

915.25

922.5

Grambling State

895.5

915

928. 75

Texas Southern

863

856.25

836.75

Miss. Valley State

913.25

928.25

948

Jacksonville State

854

858.25

858.25

Prairie View A&M

884.5

871

876

Southern University

844.5

836.5

838.75

 

MEAC

2011

2010

2009

Delaware State

897.75

898.75

904.75

Bethune-Cookman

910

919.25

925.25

Coppin State

885.4

906

910.25

Florida A&M

905

905.25

890.5

Hampton

929

894.25

864

Howard

896

888.5

903.25

Morgan State

893

902.25

928.25

Norfolk State

892.75

895.5

898.75

North Carolina A&T

924.75

917

916.25

South Carolina St.

902.5

886.5

916.25

Maryland E.S.

837.75

832.75

814.25


The MEAC and the SWAC are the only two conferences in NCAA Division I that are composed entirely of Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs). Factually, neither conference has ever placed more than one team in the history of the modern NCAA tournament, and moreover, the SWAC holds an overall record of 5-31 (.138), while the MEAC a 3-33 (.083) record in tournament play. In terms of Ranking Percentage Index (RPI), which is used to calculate the strength of a team or conference participating in college basketball, the SWAC and the MEAC have been ranked no higher than 26 out of 31 conferences over the last 14 seasons, of which over half they came in dead last.

It is not far-reaching to surmise that from a competitive standpoint, the MEAC and SWAC and HBCU’s overall have added very little to the NCAA tournament during the last few decades. The regular season is not much different, as the majority of the teams in these two conferences play most of their non-conference games on the road, or what is called a “guarantee game”, in which a larger school pays the visiting school between $50-$100,000 to provide the payee with a guaranteed win. Last year, the SWAC compiled a meager 8-104 (.071) overall record against Division I non-conference opponents!

It is also important to remember that as part of its deal with CBS, the NCAA splits a part of its revenue with the teams and/or conferences that participate in the NCAA tournament on a per-team/per-win basis. This past spring, the SWAC and MEAC were paid a combined $3.1 million for their participation (and subsequent loss) in the men’s basketball tournament. Considering that the 2011 tournament was the first year in which the field was expanded in order allow larger school to earn more at-large bids, it is not difficult to see that by raising the APR standards, and the NCAA essentially eliminates the bids that would otherwise go to the HBCU conferences, and opens their respective slots up to larger at-large teams that will be more competitive, and more importantly drive more viewership and thus more revenue to the tournament.

Of course, because the new APR cutline will not be implemented for 3-5 years, if the MEAC and SWAC have not achieved the required 930 average by the date the cutline goes into effect, the NCAA will argue that the conferences had ample opportunity to increase its academic performance during the allotted buffer period. Nevertheless, considering the fact that all but 1 of the 21 schools in the conference were ineligible over the last 3 years for the tournament according to the new guidelines, coupled with the fact that the athletic departments within the two conferences operate at a budget which ranks them in the bottom 10% percentile of the 350+ Division I institutions currently eligible for the tournament, and no one, including the NCAA, can reasonably expect these schools to be able to comply with the new regulation anytime soon.

Thus, in implementing the new APR standards, there is a clear disparate impact on these two conferences as compared to the others. We are, of course, not alleging in any way that the NCAA’s actions are racially motivated, but rather that the new regulations may be a convenient, facially neutral way, to push certain schools out of the ranks of Division I. Without the opportunity to participate in the NCAA tournament, the teams in the SWAC and MEAC will lose much needed exposure, as well as their share of the television revenues, which will essentially become the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” in eliminating any viable opportunity for them to participate in intercollegiate athletics at the highest level.

Since both conferences have several years before the cutline is implemented, and because it is theoretically possible that they may somehow manage to do something that they have never done in the past, and collectively raise their APR scores to the required level, the concerns voiced in this article my in fact be moot. That being said, the evidence, unfortunately, points to a foreboding outcome for these two conferences, especially if the NCAA is in fact aware of the “coincidental” implications of their new rule.
 

Jason Belzer is a senior writer for collegeinsider.com. EMAIL JASON

 
 
 

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