NCAA satisfied with MU academics

In a new rating system’s trial run, 16 of 20 MU teams exceed the standard.
Tuesday, March 1, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:13 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The NCAA unveiled its new system to measure academic progress Monday, with MU making the grade in a trial run.

The Academic Performance Rate is designed to grade athletic departments based on athletes’ continued eligibility. As early as next year, teams that don’t meet academic-performance standards could receive punishments ranging from the loss of scholarships to ineligibility.

“This is the morning of a new day,” NCAA President Myles Brand said. “The NCAA’s member institutions will now be held responsible for the success of their student-athletes.”

The report was especially relevant to MU, which was launched into a debate about the role of academics in athletics two years ago.

In August 2003, concerns of academic misconduct surrounding former MU basketball player Ricky Clemons prompted investigations by MU and the NCAA. Charges of academic misconduct were eventually dropped.

Only one MU athletic program, volleyball, received a warning under the new system announced Monday. Next year, however, penalties could be imposed.

The NCAA set 925 as the minimum score acceptable academic performance rate for a team, about a 50 percent graduation rate. Sports that score less than 925 are subject to warnings this year and punishment in the future.

In this trial run, the NCAA used academic performances from the 2003-04 academic year. MU earned an overall APR of 943, the fourth-best among Big 12 Conference universities’ scores. The average score for Division I schools was 948, and public schools averaged 938.

In 16 of 20 sports at MU, the APR was higher than 925, and three other sports, which have small sample sizes, have 925s within a large margin of error.

Only volleyball, with an APR of 827, is significantly below the benchmark.

Besides volleyball, the three MU sports marginally below the threshold are football with a 907, baseball with a 910 and wrestling with a 906. After four years of data have been collected, the margin of error that allows these sports to pass with a sub-925 score will no longer be in use.

Because this is a one-year sample, and APR will eventually be composed of rates from four-year periods, sports that don’t meet the 925 threshold will be given only a warning.

MU athletic director Mike Alden said that because the rates pertained to only one year of data, it was hard to form an opinion on MU’s score.

“I don’t know if I really have a reaction to it,” Alden said. “It’s nice for us to get the information. We know what the snapshot looks like, and it allows us to home in on how we’re doing as an institution.”

Gordon Christensen, a professor of internal medicine and the chairman of the MU Faculty Council, said he was glad to see the NCAA take this step.

“I think the council is pleased with this type of thing,” he said. “Members were concerned with the balance of academics and athletics for academics to be on the top. It seems to me that the intention of the NCAA is to return academics to that place.”

One of the possible repercussions of the new system involves recruiting.

“The recruiting is going to have to be done more carefully in the future, so that the people that come in can continue in this calculation system at a normal rate,” said Rex Campbell, another member of the Faculty Council.

Alden doesn’t think that will be a big problem.

“I don’t know if it puts pressure on coaches while recruiting,” he said. “It just tells them that they’ve got to reinforce that message of academics.”

Bryan Maggard, the associate athletic director for academic services, said he doesn’t expect volleyball’s score to be a recurring problem.

“Certainly we feel that in that particular sport, in that particular year, that was an anomaly,” he said. “We have 100 percent confidence that that program will rebound.”

Two former volleyball players, Mary Lauren Smith and Sara Parks, left the team during 2003-04.

Smith, then a senior, left the team midseason. Parks, who was a junior, left at the end of the semester and is not enrolled at the university this semester. In addition, Kijuana Sherrod, a freshman player in 2003, is no longer on the team or enrolled at the university. The NCAA allows for schools to appeal a specific sport’s score because of something that happened unique to a specific year, but Maggard said MU wasn’t thinking about that yet. “We’re not considering an appeal because we’re looking at a one-year snapshot,” he said.

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