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NCAA looks at academics

In the world of high-profile collegiate athletics, the classroom can be overshadowed by competition.

But the NCAA is looking to change that.

The Division I Men’s Basketball Academic Enhancement Group, which first met in August, is looking to investigate men’s basketball’s low graduation and academic progress rates.

University President Bob Bruininks is among those in the group, which consists of university presidents, athletics directors, conference commissioners and coaches.

By next year, the NCAA predicts 42 percent of men’s basketball teams will rest at the bottom of APR ratings for all men’s and women’s sports, vice president for Division I David Berst said.

“It’s a concern because it’s one of the poorest performers,” he said. “Rather than simply waiting for next year for that to occur, we thought it important to gather the various constituents.”

The issue of student-athlete academics is of particular concern to the University, as its men’s basketball team is among the worst-performing teams academically, according to an APR report.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that our men’s basketball program has had some significant challenges over the past several years,” Bruininks said in an e-mail.

To address this, the University hired a coach who understands that academics is a priority, Bruininks said, and has a “proven track record” of helping his student-athletes achieve academic success.

There has been much speculation as to the cause of the academic shortfalls of men’s basketball teams across the nation.

The main concern is the high rate of transferring that occurs within men’s basketball, because those student-athletes are less likely to graduate, Berst said.

The group will reconvene in January and again in April. It will report its findings to the Division I board of directors by the end of 2008 for review.

Immediate and historical penalties

The NCAA gives each team two APR points each term for every student-athlete who remains eligible and remains with the team.

The number of points awarded is then divided by the total points possible to find the team’s APR.

The lowest APR a team can have without facing “immediate penalties” is 925, which equates to a 60 percent graduation rate, according to the NCAA.

Immediate penalties are handed out if a team with an APR under 925 loses a player who would not have been academically eligible the following season.

The penalty states a team may not award that student-athlete’s scholarship to another.

If a team’s APR falls below 900, which equals a 45 percent graduation rate, it faces “historical penalties,” according to NCAA rules.

These penalties are meant to be “more punitive,” according to the NCAA rule, and begin with a warning to teams that fall below 900.

The penalties grow more severe from there, moving to practice and financial aid restrictions, postseason bans and restricted membership status.

The University’s men’s basketball and football teams are exempt from both penalties due to “squad-size adjustment,” which allows a smaller team’s APR to be re-evaluated.

The NCAA plans to eliminate the squad-size adjustment for their 2007-2008 APR report.

University academics

Currently, there are a number of academic programs in place at the University to help improve student-athlete academics.

The University’s admissions office works with athletics department officials to screen recruits, director of the McNamara Academic Center for Student-Athletes Mark Nelson said.

“It starts real early in the initial recruiting process,” he said.

University admissions completes the preliminary screen for 75 percent of recruits, Nelson said.

Student-athletes must participate in mandatory study times, he said. The center also offers subject tutors to help accommodate student-athletes’ travel schedules.

In addition, the athletics department participates in the Summer Bridge Program, which brings first-year student-athletes on campus prior to fall semester to ease their transition into the University.

This program was first used by the NCAA as a pilot program to improve men’s basketball academics and was later expanded to all sports, Nelson said.

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