By Michelle Brutlag Hosick
To continue the momentum of academic reforms, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors later this summer will consider a holistic set of new guidelines aimed at improving student-athlete academic success and graduation rates.
The proposals include strengthening and streamlining current guidelines to include a minimum expectation of a 50 percent Graduation Success Rate for all teams and simplified penalty structure for teams failing to meet that benchmark.
Some of the key proposals come from the Division I Committee on Academic Performance, which met April 25-27 in Indianapolis, and will be considered by the Board of Directors. The adjustments to the Academic Performance Program would go into effect for the 2013-14 academic year to allow schools time to adjust to the new guidelines.
The committee’s decision to move to a single penalty structure with an Academic Progress Rate benchmark that projects to about a 50 percent GSR (for example, a score of 925 or 930) aligns with what the Board asked the committee last fall to begin developing.
The modifications the committee wants to make are in conjunction with a number of changes from other sectors of the governance structure aimed at bolstering the Academic Performance Program. They include proposed changes to two-four transfer regulations, possible initial-eligibility adjustments from the Academics Cabinet and proposals designed to improve the academic performance of student-athletes in football and men’s basketball.
“The Academic Performance Program has changed the conversation on college campuses related to academics and athletics,” said University of Hartford President Walt Harrison, who chairs the Committee on Academic Performance. “To sustain that success, the Board will have in front of it a package from the Division I governance structure that enhances the incoming profile of student-athletes, raises the APR benchmark to a 50 percent GSR and streamlines the penalty structure.
“Taken together, these elements should continue to enhance student-athlete academic success and improve graduation rates, which is the ultimate goal.”
Currently in the Academic Performance Program, teams face two penalty benchmarks – 925 for more immediate penalties and 900 for longer-term, more serious sanctions. The committee is proposing the penalty structure be consolidated, with a single benchmark set at a projected 50 percent GSR.
While the 50 percent GSR is considered a minimum standard, Harrison said the committee also recommends that the long-term goal be stated clearly for the membership to raise the expectations above a projected 50 percent GSR.
The committee is also examining the “filters” or exemptions used to allow some teams to avoid penalties. For example, the committee is considering eliminating an exemption that frees teams from serious penalties if they are not in the bottom 10 percent of their sport. Under the current threshold, the filter is virtually irrelevant, since only a few teams in many sports fall below the 900 threshold. If the benchmark is increased to a projected 50 percent GSR, the impact is in only men’s basketball and football. Eliminating this exemption would be in line with the overall goal of moving all teams closer to the 50 percent graduation rate.
The committee also is considering changes to the exemptions based on improvement and institutional mission. While both of those filters are likely to continue, the way they are applied could change. The committee in fact has directed the NCAA research staff to explore different models for filters/exemptions and present them at the committee’s July meeting.
The Academic Performance Program examination began more than a year ago after a series of adjustments to the Academic Progress Rate altered the way the APR predicted graduation. While the adjustments (like those for professional departures and student-athletes who transfer while earning at least a 2.6 grade-point average) were designed to improve the perceived fairness of the rate, they did change the way the benchmarks predict graduation. The committee’s recommendations to the Board of Directors this summer will address these issues and show a clear commitment to improving the graduation success of student-athletes.
The committee will recommend that the Board amend policy and sponsor legislative proposals to be reviewed during the 2011-12 cycle, Proposals are likely to be effective for the 2013-14 academic year. This will give the membership about two years of notice about the increased academic expectations.