Why do we need measures and standards for eligibility? Because the word "college" in college athletics needs to mean something.
APR, GSR, ACT, GPA. My head is spinning with acronyms after reading more and more about the academic reforms that the NCAA has put in place over the last decade.
ESPN has done the hard work in bringing us inside the groups that monitor eligibility, and how the changes have impacted schools from the top to the bottom. But alongside their reporting are two columns, one by Jay Bilas ($) and one by a group of experienced educators, who call for the system to be torn down now.
Could the two systems -- APR and initial eligibility requirements -- be changed? Sure. But should there be at least some time to truly evaluate all of the impacts of the two systems? I think so.
Jay Bilas lays out an impressive argument -- he is a trained lawyer after all -- for why the APR needs to go away now. There are loopholes in the system. There are ways in which a school is punished for trying to do the best thing for the program, such as in the rules around retention points:
As an example of the APR's flaws, consider the point that is available for the retention of each player. First, why do we care whether an athlete stays at a particular institution and for how long? Because of the retention point at stake, some schools are actually hesitant to kick a player with disciplinary problems off the team because of the negative APR consequences. There are instances in which a discipline problem has to be kept on the team until his grades are such that he can be dismissed from the team without the team's APR taking a hit. Of course, that makes no sense at all.
Yes, he makes an impressive case.
But here is the problem: Scrapping the whole system to fix some of the internal issues with APR is not the answer. You don't junk your car because you get a ding in the door panel. You fix the dent.
The same with the APR system. Get the smart minds in a room and find a way to make the system make sense for all of the schools involved (more on how many schools are involved later).
It may not be perfect as it stands, but it could be improved without having to do away with it.
The same goes for Bilas' argument against the new eligibility requirements. He doesn't believe that the NCAA needs to monitor both initial eligibility and continuing eligibility, but he also doesn't think that the new requirements for eligibility make sense at all.
The numbers he uses to support this are those that are given by the NCAA, so it is hard to find fault with the source of the data. However, it is the way he uses the data that is incorrect.
Consider the contradictions of the new initial eligibility standard: According to the NCAA, 39 percent of football players and 43 percent of basketball players admitted in 2009 and 2010 would not have met this initial eligibility standard. In addition, 15 percent of all athletes would not have been initially eligible. Think about that. The NCAA is saying that approximately 40 percent of football and basketball players and 15 percent of all college athletes currently in college were not prepared for college upon their arrival.
Meanwhile, the NCAA stated this year that graduation rates and APR are better than ever, and that athletes graduate at a higher rate than the general student population. So, even "unprepared" athletes are successfully navigating college work to the point that graduation rates are the best in history.
Which is it?
It can actually be neither in this case.
The new eligibility standards aren't just about reaching thresholds for GPA. There is some of that involved, and yes, some of the athletes today wouldn't have made the cut. But it is also about the timing of the classes that are taken.
Many of the athletes now took boatloads of classes during their senior year, something that wouldn't fly under the new rules.
So the lack of qualification isn't just because of a higher GPA requirement, but about how the classes were taken during their four, or in some cases, five years of high school. That is something that needs to be stated in the argument.
As we leave Bilas' statement, we have the crossover point between the two opinions: the graduation rate.
Bilas sites the strong graduation rates given by the NCAA, while at the same time, Gerald Gurney and Richard Southall, blast the calculation of that graduation rate.
The NCAA's newly adopted Graduation Success Rate (GSR) includes a number of adjustments for athletes who leave a university in "good academic standing" and results in an overall GSR rate (2010-11 -- 82 percent) that is (on average) 17-20 percentage points higher than the Federal Graduation Rate (FGR) (2010-11 -- 65 percent).
Let me channel my inner Bilas: which is it?
You can't have it both ways. The number can't be high for Bilas argument and then low for the argument of the other two authors. I would tend to side with the other two authors -- and this has nothing to do with my campaign against Bilas for Big East commissioner. You have to calculate graduation rate using students who actually graduate.
And then there is the disturbing part:
What has been lost amid the NCAA's public relations campaign is the continued existence of large (30-40 percent) negative graduation gaps between NCAA Division I football and men's basketball players and the general student population. In some cases teams report graduation rates of zero.
This is exactly why APR should be kept around. Have schools get credit for graduating their athletes, but only count it for the school if the athlete actually graduates (and don't let them get points if the student comes back later to finish their degree).
Yet for some reason, the two authors feel that the loopholes in APR make it worth getting rid of. Again, wholesale scrapping of the car for a little fender bender doesn't seem right.
Gurney and Southall believe that all of the advantages of the top schools in terms of money and resources make the APR a joke. They are able to devote money to helping their athletes get their grades up, they are able to find tutors for the students. They have the ability to pass in their wallets.
Not all of the schools in Division 1 have these re$ources, especially the historically black colleges and universities.
But here is my issue. Is it wrong to do everything in your power to help your athletes get an education? I think about schools that take in players who were on the very edge of not being eligible and get them through to a degree (places like Temple under John Chaney, who didn't have APR to contend with, but worked his butt off to have his kids get the grades they needed). Those places should be applauded for their efforts (even more so if some of the loopholes in the system are closed).
At some point, there needs to be a larger discussion about whether some schools belong at the Division 1 level if these are the academic requirements that go along with it. There are scholarship levels that need to be met in Division 1. That requires money -- a lot of it.
It is hard to cry poor when you have put yourself in this position by making the choice to compete in Division 1. Sure, the prestige is greater, but there is a cost that comes along with the prestige. In some cases you have to pay to play.
I don't want to be in charge of kicking anyone out, but at some of these schools, there has to be a tough discussion. Are you about sports, or about educating young minds?
That isn't an issue of APR or not APR. That is just a mission decision.
I respect the three men who wrote these opinions. They outlined the problems in the system. They have identified the gaps that need to be closed to make both measure -- APR and eligibility -- relevant.
But the solution is too heavy handed. It needs to be done gently, and the pressure has to be kept on these schools to have players, coaches and administrators be held accountable for more than points on the scoreboard.
The APR and eligibility requirements need to stay, if only to keep college athletics about the first 50 percent of that term: college.