NCAA Presidents met in Indianapolis on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss major reform across the board.
The good news for WKU is that the NCAA’s first big change might actually benefit the school’s athletic program.
The NCAA Board of Directors on Thursday voted to ban Division I athletic teams from postseason play if their four-year academic progress rate failed to meet 930.
It’s a sharp change from the standards that had been in place, but won’t require WKU to alter its approach much. All 19 sports exceeded the current mandate of 925, and several did so with flying colors.
“It sort of reaffirms what our own core values are,” Associate Athletic Director for Communications Todd Stewart said. “As a university, we feel it’s our responsibility to recruit student-athletes and have them progress toward a degree – prepare them for real life.
“Any policy that comes in place that’s consistent with those beliefs is something we would see as very favorable.”
A school’s respective APR is based on its average over the previous four years. For instance, the most recent APR report that came out in May was based on averages from the 2006-2007, 2007-2008, 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years.
Currently, the APR benchmark is set at 925, which predicts approximately a 50 percent graduation rate. Only if a team falls below 900 three years in a row could they potentially face postseason bans, as well as scholarship and practice restrictions.
With the new policy, it’s pretty straightforward – either get to 930 or it’s no postseason play, even if it’s one of the top teams in the country. And it doesn’t appear as if there will be any appeal process.
There still seem to be a few questions lingering about how the NCAA will enforce the new policy, especially for football.
The Bowl Championship Series is its own entity and decides the college football postseason, thus making them the governing body for college football.
President Gary Ransdell said there’s uncertainty on how the new standard relates to the BCS.
“The BCS is an independently run enterprise, yet it involves NCAA member institutions,” he said. “So does this 930 rule also determine eligibility for BCS games? I think that’s yet to be ironed out.”
Ransdell serves on the BCS Oversight Committee and expects this to be a hot topic at the organization’s November meeting.
Ransdell wasn’t at the Presidents Retreat since he’s not a member of the Board of Directors, but he said Sun Belt Commissioner Wright Waters held a conference call with member presidents to keep them informed on what was being discussed.
Another question is when the new policy will kick in.
According to the NCAA, it will be “phased in” over time, but no definitive timeframe has been set. Several reports suggest that athletic programs will likely have somewhere between three to five years to adjust academic standards and recruiting to prepare for the change.
Many schools will have a lot of adjustments to make during that period.
But not WKU.
Even if the stricter policy had been in place previously, WKU would have been eligible for postseason play in all sports for the 2011-2012 season (since the APR reports come out in May, the sanctions are placed on the following athletic year).
“We don’t have adjusting to do, and that’s good for us,” Ransdell said. “It will be good for the Sun Belt Conference. Without getting into specific institutions, the Sun Belt probably has too many situations where programs are below the 925 standard.”
Louisiana-Monroe will be ineligible for postseason play in men’s basketball after posting an APR of 852. ULM has been in the 800s in men’s basketball since the 2004-2005 report.
Florida Atlantic faces a scholarship reduction for the fourth straight year after failing to meet the 925 mark. ULM will also have a reduction in scholarships.
“This forces everybody raise their standards if they have aspirations for postseason play,” Ransdell said. “I think that’s a good thing.”
It’s a much different story for WKU.
The volleyball team was one of just seven teams – all sports included – in the state of Kentucky to post a perfect 1,000 APR. They were also one of 10 Sun Belt teams to do so.
The football team’s score of 959 ranked second in the conference, behind only Middle Tennessee at 979. Men’s basketball and baseball both tied for third in the conference with scores of 964 and 956 respectively.
WKU’s lowest APR score came from Men’s Outdoor track, which posted a score of 933.
WKU was one of seven Sun Belt teams to see all of their sports meet the 925 threshold.
Part of WKU’s academic success, at least recently, is due in large part to a retention plan started by Athletics Director Ross Bjork, Stewart said.
All incoming freshmen athletes, regardless of what their high school grade point average or test scores were, are initially monitored in an effort to help them develop a solid academic foundation and prevent them from straying off course early on.
Stewart said the new APR reform emphasizes the “student” part of the term student-athlete.
Since 2000, 85 percent of WKU’s student-athletes that have exhausted their eligibility have graduated. Even though WKU is in good position now in terms of APR, Stewart said that doesn’t mean WKU can get complacent.
“As Ross says, if you’re only maintaining, then you’re falling behind,” Stewart said. “Whether these new APR policies came in to play or not, our opinion is that you always have to strive to get better.”