APR rule delaying Zollo’s transfer process

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Former Toppers Vinny Zollo is experiencing problems with his transfer due to an APR rule. Zollo’s GPA sits below a 2.6, which is below the NCAA’s APR benchmark for transfers. If Zollo left without getting his GPA up, it would affect WKU’s APR number.

Cole Claybourn

Vinny Zollo is one of more than 300 college basketball transfers across the country this offseason. But due to a little-known NCAA rule, he’s one of few that are experiencing problems with that process.

Zollo’s GPA currently sits below 2.6 — the benchmark number that transfers must obtain without affecting the school’s academic progress rate.

Just last fall, the NCAA proposed a rule change that made the APR a determining factor when it came to postseason play. A program must meet the 930 mark or it can’t participate in postseason play, no matter the prestige the program has. The new, stricter policy will be phased in over time and take full effect in the 2014-2015 season.

Such a policy obviously prevents a school from national exposure, experience in the postseason and, ultimately, money.

Student-athletes are eligible to transfer with a 2.0 GPA, which Zollo has, and there’s no stipulation in Zollo’s National Letter of Intent that says he must get a 2.6 in order to be able to transfer without affecting the school’s APR number. 

Because of a couple players who have transferred out of WKU’s program recently with academic problems, Interim Athletics Director Todd Stewart said the school doesn’t want to let the cases pile up.

But that’s still not enough to convince Zollo, who was recruited by former head coach Ken McDonald. 

“My intentions here are not to cause any harm to WKU as a program,” Zollo said. “My case of it all is, if you get rid of the coach that I came to play for, how can you expect guys to stay under any stipulations? 

“I’m sorry that the APR is not exactly in the ship-shape that you want it to be as a program due to past guys and everything, but really, in a way, that doesn’t really affect me. I’m just looking out for my future.”

Ken Brown and Brandon Peters both left WKU’s program last season due to academic issues. Brown was dismissed from the team early on in the season, while Peters was ruled academically ineligible for the second half of the season, then again for the first half of 2011-2012 season before eventually transferring out. 

Both instances affected WKU’s 2010-2011 APR number, which will be released in May. Stewart said that number is “not a great number.”

Right now, WKU’s number is fine. In the latest APR report released in May 2011, based on a four-year average from the 2006-2007, 2007-2008, 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years, WKU basketball’s APR was 956, far good enough to be eligible for postseason play.

To figure the APR, each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one retention point for staying in school and one eligibility point for being academically eligible. A team’s total points are divided by points possible and then multiplied by one thousand to equal the team’s APR score.

If Zollo didn’t make the APR benchmark but still transferred to a four-year school, then for the 2011-2012 season, he would be considered a “3-for-4,” meaning he’d receive three APR points out of the possible four. 

Each athlete gets two points per semester — one for remaining eligible and one for remaining in school.

That translates to a personal 750 APR for Zollo, well below the 930 benchmark.

 “Now, there are 12 other guys that factor into the 2011-2012 APR, so it’s based on how 13 guys do, not one,” Stewart said. “But if you have one guy that’s a 3-for-4, you don’t want many others like that.”

Zollo was granted a full release to contact any school he chooses and can set up official and unofficial visits.

But until the APR situation is completely settled, it’s going to be tough for Zollo to get the green light with any school. It likely won’t be until mid-May — after the semester ends — when Zollo can fully look into other schools without any stipulations hanging over his head.

“It doesn’t help,” Zollo said of the stipulations. “A lot of times I’m talking to these schools that have shown a lot of interest, and the first thing is a lot of schools don’t want to put up with the hassle. A lot of schools, they don’t want to get into a battle with other schools.

“My intentions are not to take down Western’s program just because my grades are below a 2.6. I don’t feel that any program should be given a right to decide what a player can do and what he can’t do as far as leaving, because these coaches and administrators are making decisions that affect players’ futures. If I don’t have a say in my future, that makes you just step back and say, ‘Wow, what is the state of Division I sports?’”

He hasn’t released a list of schools yet and said he doesn’t plan to do so until he’s narrowed down a top two or three.

His decision to leave came solely after assessing the situation after the season. He now had a new head coach and a somewhat new coaching staff and, if he stayed, a new athletics director.

Zollo, who played in all 35 games for WKU this season and started 14 of them — mostly in the first half of the season under McDonald — is an example of a player who came in to play for a certain coach and simply wasn’t comfortable in the new setting after a coaching change.

Zollo admits he had a tough first semester, both academically and physically. He battled mono early on and had surgery while trying to get used to the college lifestyle.

“I had a hard time acclimating to being a Division I athlete,” he said. “My first semester is not a true representation of the kind of student I am. I had really great grades in high school, and, you know, I had a rough semester academically, like a lot of guys do.

“This semester I’m really focused on getting my grades up to where I should be as a student.”

So now it’s a situation where Zollo, who referred to the APR as more of a “guideline” than a rule, legally has the qualifications to transfer under NCAA rules, but WKU is left trying to protect the future of its program.

Zollo said he’s well aware of how the APR could eventually affect WKU down the road, but at the same time he has to look out for his best interest.

“You can look at it from either direction,” he said. “You could say, ‘You should have gotten a 2.6, blah blah blah blah.’ Well, not exactly. I obtained the proper GPA to transfer legally. As a player, I don’t see why I wouldn’t be given ample opportunity to transfer without any setbacks as long as I’m within that legality.”

Stewart has seen situations where schools like the University of Connecticut, who won the NCAA Championship in 2011, have received postseason bans due to low APR scores and simply doesn’t want WKU to fall in that same category.

“It’s important obviously for everyone to have as good of an APR as they can,” he said. “That’s what will keep UConn out of next year’s tournament. I suspect there will probably be some others too.

“That’s really why Coach Harper told him we’d release him anywhere, and we have released him to talk to anybody provided he has a 2.6 GPA. Our APR right now is actually OK. It’s not a situation where we’re one player away from having some real issues. Nevertheless, you don’t want to let your guard down and let it drop.”

Because of the new repercussions that low APR scores could have on programs, Stewart said he expects to see these same types of stipulations become more common when athletes transfer.

“There’s so much at stake,” he said. “You can only imagine what happens to the program if a team is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament. Not only is that going to affect your immediate team, in terms of attendance and excitement around that team, it’s going to affect your recruiting too.”

Zollo said he’s handling the entire situation on his own with the help of a close group of peers — the same people who helped with his recruiting coming out of high school. 

Stewart said Zollo would have any assistance that he may need, academically or otherwise, from the academic support staff or the athletic compliance office.

Both are hopeful that the situation will work out and won’t cause a firestorm like other recent situations have where coaches blocked players’ transfers.

“I’m very confident in the fact that I will be given (my transcripts),” Zollo said. “I don’t want to prolong this process even more. What good would that do? To extend this process, to make it an ugly matter — nobody wants that.”