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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

One of the safest bets in the sports opinion world is to take whatever the NCAA has just done and call it stupid. The AP could run a story like so...


SOMEWHERE (AP) -- The NCAA has decided to do something. No details are available.
...and fifty bloggers would link to it. There would be a 50% chance of "NC$$" and "lol" in each post. And 90% of the time, they would be right.

This is the only explanation I can muster for what appears to be a universally negative reaction to the NCAA's newly toothy APR penalties, which knocked on the doors of hundreds of programs at dozens of schools in a wide variety of sports, just not at, like, USC. Except in basketball, where it did. A sampling:
[Orson at TSN.] The NCAA has its own No Child Left Behind Act, and it is called the Academic Progress Rate. It's the NCAA's own road to hell, paved with good intentions. It is on the way to thinning the ranks of Division I college football, and little but common sense seems to stand in the way of it happening.
[Salon's King Kaufman] Schools have always pushed their athletes into taking easy classes and avoiding challenging majors. The APR creates more incentive to push more of them that way. More kids graduating doesn't necessarily mean more kids are getting more education. But that's OK, the NCAA isn't about education. It's about profits from a multibillion-dollar entertainment industry with a mostly unpaid labor force.
[Wizard of Odds] Not exactly sure what Myles Brand has accomplished in his tenure as Grand Poobah of the NCAA outside of collecting a fat paycheck. He likely would point to his fraudulent Academic Progress Report, which was released Tuesday.
(That last is from the Wizard of Odds, who is excellent at digging up stories and was an awesome resource during last year's clock fiasco but is always outraged when given the slightest opportunity and usually wrong in the process of doing so. I have such a love-hate relationship with that site; you go from daily compendiums of interesting things to outrage factories like "the cheapest shot of the year.")

Orson's analogy to No Child Left Behind is inapt. NCLB, oddly, takes money from failing schools. The APR takes students, leaving behind a smaller corps of kids the Idahos (Idahoes? In your area codes?) of the world can fail. If this makes Dick Tomey complain about "class warfare" in the same article he says San Jose State had "no academic support to speak of," he can suck it up. What are the chances San Jose State would have an academic support program now if not for the looming threat of the APR? Zero. Small schools are complaining that they have to spend money educating students.

Both of the latter pieces attack the validity of the APR by speculating that it's the big money-flush schools that have the most incentive to bring in low-achieving students. Kaufman:
The more time you spend studying, the less you have for practicing or working out. The more road trips and tournaments and nationally televised midweek games you have, the less time you have to go to class. The more a school requires its athletes to be good students, the more good athletes it loses out on.
I really like King Kaufman -- most underrated sportswriter on the planet -- but he's wrong here. It's commonplace for academically at-risk recruits to fall to the Troy Trojans (We're From Troy!) or Akron or whatever. Bigger schools have the luxury of passing on some of the severe academic risks* and the guidance structures in place to keep their academic risks on path to a quasi-degree. Players with a potential NFL carrot at the end of the rainbow are also more likely to preserve their precious eligibility.

*(or oversigning by like six and taking the ones who hack it best. Whatever, we're the SEC! We do what we want!)

The Wiz:
This annual report regularly punishes the smaller schools and rewards the larger institutions, which are able to prop up their so-called "student-athletes" with an endless supply of tutors, favorable professors and state-of-the-art academic centers.
Yes, that "favorable professors" link goes to what you think it does. Of course, favorable professors are all they have at Florida International -- that's why it's Florida International -- and Panther athletes still fail like whoah. Oh, and they're cheating. The slam on "state of the art academic centers" is weird, too: God forbid schools are forced to spend some of their filthy lucre on the students that actually rake it in.

Of course, the issue here is that many schools do not rake in filthy lucre, and instead blow millions of dollars attempting to keep up with the Space Joneses in a futile attempt to... what, exactly? Let everyone know that Florida has run out of real names for its universities? Remind folks of the existence of schools in north Texas? The NCAA, as of yet, has no real safeguards against the Florida Internationals of the world wasting their money and everyone's time with a foray into I-A that's destructive to their students, their opponents' fans, and Lamar Thomas' broadcasting career.

SMQB recently laid into the very existence of the program, and I co-sign wholeheartedly:
FIU is not the only bad team, nor the only team that falls short of its various extracurricular benchmarks; most of the SBC and a dozen or so other perennially feeble programs probably aren't worth the ink that sets them apart from the lower divisions. It is, for now, the worst on both fronts, and easily taken advantage of, like a sick, feeble herd that keeps on giving to the bigger, quicker predators in the bush. Is there any reason at all Florida International's continued existence in I-A does not constitute a diluting of the sport's gene pool and a waste of its time?
I would expand that to include the entire wretched Sun Belt outside of the aforementioned Troy Trojans (We're From Troy!) and two or three teams each in the MAC, WAC, and Mountain West that are, like Florida International, failing everywhere there is somewhere to fail.

Orson's dire threat above sounds like a positive to me. There is no reason D-I should be forced to suffer the presence of San Jose State or Florida International and if sustained bludgeoning from the APR forces them to drop down to a level more appropriate for their resources, more power to it. There is ample evidence very Saturday in September that I-A is 20 programs too fat.

There are real criticisms of the APR to be levied. They appear to be thus:
  • This waiver business is arbitrary and ripe for exploitation. Bruce Feldman points out this article in the State that breaks down the 492 programs that fell short of the APR minimum but did not get dinged. 315 programs avoided penalties because they have no money or did better than their student body at large; 253 of these avoided penalties because no one left ineligible. But then there are the 66 programs, including those from Ohio State, Purdue, Indiana, South Florida, Oregon, and South Carolina, that got waivers because they promised to do better, ie: spend more. This can't be done by smaller programs and we should have little sympathy for the pleas of big schools that fall below the minimum. Oregon was at 921 with all of Phil Knight's money: dock them the two or three scholarships. And how the hell did Arizona (APR 902, worst in the BCS) get off this year after getting hit last year?
  • The schools themselves set minimums for academic progress and the APR gives them a strong incentive to give students the most remedial classes they can find. End result: the numbers go up but the amount of education does not. The NCAA should institute an exit exam for revenue sports that tests basic reading comprehension and math skills and the like.
Misc.: Protesters have remarked that only two of 37 penalized programs were BCS schools as if the fate of Howard University has any relevance to the landed gentry. Your D-I offenders: *
  • Big 12: Kansas
  • Pac 10: Washington State
  • MAC: Central Michigan, Akron, Temple, Toledo
  • Sun Belt: Florida International, Florida Atlantic, North Texas
  • WAC: Hawaii, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Idaho
  • Mountain West: UNLV, San Diego State.
Sixteen offenders, two in the BCS, FWIW.

Get the Picture has a good take on the situation, as well.