UM men's basketball on bubble with APR

In future, Terps could lose two scholarships because of academics

May 03, 2007|By Heather A. Dinich and Edward Lee | Heather A. Dinich and Edward Lee,Sun Reporters

The Maryland men's basketball team could lose as many as two scholarships if its average Academic Progress Rate, which was released yesterday by the NCAA, does not improve by this time next year.

With two of the six seniors from last season's roster on the verge of not graduating on time, academic improvement is needed to avoid NCAA sanctions for teams that fail to meet the APR cut score of 925 and have ineligible athletes who do not return to school. Maryland basketball scored a three-year average of 908.

"Obviously, it's definitely a concern," said Anton Goff, an assistant athletic director at Maryland who leads the academic support unit. "Anytime we have any one of our teams below the cut score we're concerned about it."

If one or both of those players don't graduate by the end of the summer, and the team's four-year average is again under the 925 cut score, the program could lose 10 percent of the total allotment of 13 scholarships. If it meets the 925 requirement, the scholarships won't be affected, regardless of how this senior class fares on graduation day.

Maryland will not know how those players affect its APR until the 10th day of classes next fall, the last chance for students to officially enroll in classes.

Maryland's situation reflects a trend seen across the nation, as 44 percent of Division I men's basketball teams would have possibly lost scholarships this year if it weren't for the NCAA's margin of error. That cushion - called the "squad-size adjustment" - won't exist next year, and officials with the NCAA said they expect even more than the 112 teams that were sanctioned this year to face penalties next time.

"Unless a team has significant improvement over the next year - when the small squad-size adjustment goes away - or unless they have an approved workable plan for recovery, there will be more penalties," said NCAA president Myles Brand. "It's hard to estimate now how many more, but it could be significantly more than we see this year."

The APR is a formula developed by the NCAA to provide a real-time gauge of how many athletes are staying in school, staying eligible and graduating. The best score is 1,000. Maryland's wrestling team, which is also in jeopardy of facing penalties next year, scored 909.

In general, Maryland colleges and universities received passing grades. Four schools - Loyola, Mount St. Mary's, Navy and UMBC - did not have a single athletic team post a mark less than the 925 APR cutoff rate, which translates to a graduation rate of about 60 percent.

Nationally, teams from historically black schools and colleges affected by Hurricane Katrina did not fare well. About 13 percent of the schools that received warning letters or could lose scholarships were predominantly black colleges and universities. Thirteen of 49 warning letters were sent to seven Louisiana institutions.

No Bowl Championship Series team received a warning letter. Of the 12 Division I-A football teams that lost scholarships, only Arizona represents one of the six BCS conferences. The only major-conference basketball teams penalized were Cincinnati and Iowa State.

While none of Maryland's teams were sanctioned - and 20 of its 26 applicable programs were at or above the 950 mark - the NCAA is pressuring athletic departments and coaches to maintain success and develop "academic improvement plans" to meet the APR benchmark in all sports.

Four of the six seniors on the Terps' basketball team are on track to graduate, but one is a walk-on who does not count toward the APR. Goff would not release the names of the two players in academic trouble. If those two don't graduate by the end of the summer, they could cost the program points if they don't return to school to earn their degree and they left while ineligible.

"We're always worried about it," Goff said. "Even if one of our teams who are above the cut mark have a bad year, they could fall under. We're paying attention to these numbers very closely. If you're above the cut score, let's get you a little higher. If you're below it, let's definitely get you over. And if you're at 1,000, what can we do to keep you there?"

As long as teams are above 900 and do not lose an ineligible student from the university, they will not lose scholarships. If teams fall below 900, they will receive a letter of "public notice."

Only three athletic squads in the state registered APRs of less than 900: Coppin State baseball (835); Morgan State women's volleyball (846); and UMES men's basketball (801). They each received warning letters.

If teams fall below 900 a second straight year, it could lead to scholarship losses and reductions in practice and playing time. Third-year penalties would restrict postseason competition, and four straight years of poor academic performance would result in restricted Division I membership for the entire athletic department.

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