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NCAA Enacts New Graduation Rate Rules

— College sports teams must stay on track to graduate at least 50 percent of their student-athletes to avoid the risk of losing scholarships for a year, under a plan approved Monday by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors.

Teams with a projected graduation rate below 50 percent could be subject to contemporaneous penalties as part of the new NCAA academic reform standards. Contemporaneous penalties will be based on the new Academic Performance Rate (APR) of each team and individual academic performance of student-athletes. When a contemporaneous penalty is applied, an institution may not re-award the scholarship of an ineligible student-athlete who left the school to a new student-athlete. This restriction lasts for one year.

“This action today is a critical step in our journey to establishing much stronger and significant academic standards for NCAA student-athletes,” said Robert Hemenway, chair of the Board of Directors and chancellor of the University of Kansas. “The ultimate goal is for our student-athletes to stay on track academically and graduate.”

New academic standards for individual student-athletes began last year related to initial eligibility for prospective student-athletes and term-by-term progress toward earning a degree for current student-athletes.

“This is a strong package of reforms, and I applaud the Board of Directors and the Committee on Academic Performance for their efforts,” said NCAA President Myles Brand. “The penalties are strong, and they will hold teams accountable and lead to increased academic success for student-athletes.”

The plan adopted by the Board of Directors at the annual NCAA Convention establishes a cut score of 925 for the Academic Performance Rate. The APR is based on individual academic performance and retention of student-athletes. A cut score of 925 is roughly equivalent to an expected 50 percent graduation rate, using the current federal methodology for calculating graduation rates.

According to data collected from NCAA member institutions, approximately 7.4 percent of teams in all Division I sports would fall below the 925 APR score, and 51.2 percent of Division I colleges and universities would have at least one team below the 925 APR score. These teams would be subject to a contemporaneous penalty if a scholarship student-athlete leaves the institution without meeting academic standards.

Sports affected the most by the cut score and that would have teams with at least one player below the standard, according to the data, are baseball, 23.9 percent; men’s basketball, 20.1 percent; and football, 30.7 percent.

The plan approved by the Board of Directors also sets a maximum limit on the number of scholarships a team could lose in a given year. The limit is 10 percent of the maximum financial aid limit in the specific sport.

This means that a Division I-A football team, for example, could lose up to nine scholarships out of 85 for not meeting the new academic guidelines. Men’s and women’s basketball teams could lose two scholarships out of 13 and 15, respectively. Sports that award financial aid based on headcount round up the number of scholarships that could be lost.

The NCAA academic reform program is based on both real time and long-term measurements of student academic performance.

The APR will be calculated each year based on the number of student-athletes on each team who remain academically eligible, continue as full-time students and graduate. The cut score will be adjusted to ensure that teams falling below the 50 percent standard would be at risk for contemporaneous penalties.

In the long term, a Graduation Success Rate (GSR) will be established based on the number of scholarship student-athletes who graduate each year, including transfer student-athletes. The federal government currently does not count transfer students in the official graduation rates of colleges and universities. Student-athletes who leave the institution and would have been eligible to return will not be counted against the GSR.

The first contemporaneous penalties will be based on APR scores from 2003-04 and 2004-05, and student-athlete eligibility and retention for 2004-05. Institutions will receive APR reports in late January or early February that will include final APR scores by team and the overall rate for the college or university for 2003-04. The report will also indicate what contemporaneous penalties would have been applied had the sanctions been in effect.

Contemporaneous penalties would begin to take effect in 2005-06 or 2006-07, depending on scholarship commitments made by institutions.

“The contemporaneous penalties are meant to give immediate feedback to schools, to tell them they are on the wrong track and need to make changes and turn things around academically,” said Walter Harrison, president of the University of Hartford and chair of the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance, which recommended the cut score and cap on contemporaneous penalties to the Board.

The historical penalty structure will be finalized over the next year. As currently discussed, historical penalties will be based on the APR scores and GSR and are designed to be more punitive than contemporaneous penalties.

If a sports team does not meet the minimum APR score, it will first receive a warning letter under the historical penalty structure. If a team does not meet the score for a second year, recruiting and/or financial aid limitations will be imposed. Three years of underperformance will cause a team’s Graduation Success Rate to be reviewed to determine whether the team should be ruled ineligible for postseason competition. After four years of failure, a team will lose its NCAA membership status. Historical penalties are expected to begin in 2006.

NCAA Division I institutions will receive an annual report each winter that outlines APR and GSR scores for each sports team. Small squad sizes and institutional mission will be taken into account when applying penalties.

Hemenway said the Board agreed that as more APR and GSR data becomes available, cut scores may be adjusted in the future.

In other action, the Board of Directors requested that NCAA staff draft legislation for the Board’s consideration in April that would modify or eliminate the 15,000 average attendance requirement for Division I-A membership. The Board asked for recommendations that support and enhance Division I-AA membership as well. The Board also asked the Baseball Issues Committee to consider developing a proposal to shorten the playing season.


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