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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Lo and behold: the academic progress rates are here. This year marks the first that the NCAA has put teeth behind the numbers, docking 11 I-A football programs a total of 41 scholarships. The most prominent offenders: Arizona (four) and Hawaii (one). The most obvious: Florida International, which will lose a whopping nine scholarships. (Never fear, single living FIU fan: your school can't find enough guys willing to fill out a football roster anyway. Docking FIU scholarships 76 through 85 is like removing the spoiler from a Dodge Shadow.) Is this good? Is this bad? Respected and esteemed internet colleagues seem to be taking a cynical tack. SMQB:

The NCAA released its third annual report on "Academic Progress Rate" Wednesday, hitting eleven mostly smaller Bowl Subdivision schools with scholarship penalties for failing to meet no doubt draconian, bureaucratically skewed benchmarks.
Orson dubs the cruelest abbreviation the "Annual Pipsqueak Reaming" and then gets his own ream on:
This post is therefore sponsored by the burgeoning field of NCAA compliance and the American Union of NCAA Compliance Officers. Through an increasingly incoherent and flexible policy, the NCAA’s done little more than subsidize the growth of an industry devoted solely to countering its own policies, and one that will likely require the services of that most pricey and ornery of professionals: the attorney. Schools unable to afford representation will gradually be razed out of sport, since the market will clip the weaker competition (HBCUs and San Jose States of the world) out of business.

In the future, the best defense in college football won’t be wearing a mouth guard and eyeblack. They’ll be carrying a valise and a J.D. from a top 25 law school, and their playbook will be much, much more complicated than that of its opposition for one very good reason: the other team faxed them the game plan before kickoff.

Dang! Orson also references Miami Hawk Talk, which has been all over the APR since its inception. Even though Miami of Ohio has one of the best APR records in the country, they are not pleased:
The NCAA released its third annual round of academic progress rate ("APR") reports yesterday and the upshot is simple: While 40% of college football programs missed the alleged 925 "cut-off" standard, the NCAA waved its magic wand (called the "squad size" adjustment) and opted to sanction only one BCS-conference football program. That was Arizona, if you were curious. Without getting into all the gory details of the squad size adjustment, we simply note again this spring that the explanation that a sport with an 85-man roster needs slack for "small sample size" strikes us as complete bullshit.
(MHT also claims to not have the "earnest indignation" of MGoBlog. I'm trying to figure out if that's an compliment or an insult.) This is a misinterpretation of the squad size adjustment's intent. It's designed to build in some slack for teams with smaller rosters that can be heavily affected by a single departure. In essence, the NCAA agrees that the idea an 85-man roster doesn't need said slack. As the NCAA backgrounder notes:
Elimination of the squad-size adjustment will begin with the 2007-08 APR reports for any team with an aggregate cohort of 30 or more student-athletes.
The reason it's being applied now is because the NCAA only has three years of data:
While the NCAA is working toward a rolling four-year APR for each team, the adjustment will prevent some teams from being unfairly assessed a penalty in the short term.
There would be serious complaint from most schools that they weren't given time to get up to speed with the new regulations. This is a completely reasonable step to take, isn't it? Most of the accusations being leveled at the NCAA right now are criticisms of things they haven't even done yet. If next year comes and the squad size adjustment does not evaporate or if it does and the NCAA weasels its way out of hitting Michigan State because they have an improvement plan, then give them both barrels. When the NCAA announced the APR they said it would advisory its first couple years, then in the third year they would start phasing in penalties for extremely low performers and in its forth year it would be fully enforced. They have not deviated from this yet and deserve a tiny bit of faith.

Many assert that this all comes down to money, and maybe it does. But the spectacle of college football fans and media coming down on the NCAA only punishing small schools because the big ones have the resources to dump money into making their athletes graduate is a bizarre one. The APR is forcing schools to spend millions of dollars getting its athletes in the classroom and eligible. This is a good thing. This is its purpose. Some schools don't have the money and resources to do this; they should not be playing D-IA football.

The main complaint registered by APR opponents is that it affects the small schools too much, but they are the bad guys here. They wish to acquire the prestige and notoriety of the big time schools and to do so they will 1) spend copious amounts of money better deployed on actually educating their students, 2) bring in academic nonentities that were passed over by schools who don't have to scrape the bottom of the barrel, and 3) fail those guys out with no remorse, all for the aggrandizement of the geniuses who think FAU and FIU should have football teams #6 and #7 in the state of Florida. (Historically black schools and Katrina-affected schools, commonly cited as victims, are being granted waivers and such; if they aren't then they should be, granted.) The schools at the top of the food chain are financially solvent, academically responsible relative to the bottom feeders, and have the resources to provide their athletes with academic support.

Those who can't hack it shouldn't be playing. Personally, anything the NCAA can do to nuke FIU and their ilk out of I-A is a good thing. Florida International in no way deserves a Division I football team, but because they want to blow a bunch of money to have one they do. Every game the Panthers play detracts from college football. Hell, the entire Sun Belt fits in this category. Each pitiful Buffalo or FIU or Temple in the D-IA ranks is four or five opportunities for real football teams to avoid playing each other. They're miserable on and off the field. They're a blight on the game. No one will mourn their passing or even notice that they're gone. I-A football is not a right.