Seniors and former Cal Poly men's basketball players Jamal Johnson (far left) and Chris Eversley (to Johnson's left) are on track to graduate this year. | Ian Billings/Mustang News

Tram Nguyen
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While Cal Poly celebrated its first-ever NCAA basketball tournament berth, a March 17 Associated Press article named the team as one of eight that failed NCAA academic requirements for tournament teams.

It was, as Assistant Athletic Director Shannon Stephens put it, “a slap in the face to some degree.”

The problem? Cal Poly did, in fact, meet the 2014 tournament requirements, Stephens said.

“I know what we’re at,” he said. “And so they put us in the category with some other schools? I get it. That’s part of what journalists have to do.”

To determine if a team was eligible for the 2014 tournament, the NCAA used Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores published in 2013, which spanned from 2008-2012. During that period, Cal Poly earned a four-year APR of 925 and a two-year average of 975 for the year ending in 2012.

The Associated Press article cited a study from University of Central Florida that listed Cal Poly as falling below the NCAA four-year APR standard of 930.

However, the 930 APR standard mentioned in the study will not apply until the upcoming 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 championships, according to the NCAA’s website.

The NCAA’s actual APR requirement for teams to participate in tournament play as of 2012-2013 was a minimum of 900 over four years or a 930 average over the most recent two years. By either measure, Cal Poly’s team met the requirements and was eligible for the tournament.

Graphic by Tram Nguyen
Graphic by Tram Nguyen

Responding to the inaccuracy, the study’s spokesperson Jonathan Pelts explained that the study’s findings are meant for the 2015 tournament.

Because the 2012-2013 APR scores won’t be published until June, the study conductors used the 2011-2012 scores instead, and applied the NCAA’s 2015 standard to those.

“What we’re saying is if schools were to continue with those scores, they’ll be in trouble,” Pelts said.

He said in the future, they will clarify which year the study findings apply to.

Besides applying a new standard to old data, the study conductors also left out the two-year average standard, which led to the University of Connecticut arguing that its team was, in fact, eligible for the tournament, Pelts said.

“We’re all about educating and raising awareness,” he said. “We’re not trying to go after (the teams) at all.”

Stephens, however, reasoned that the study was published right before the 2014 tournament, so it gave the impression that Cal Poly was not eligible for the tournament. He said even though student-athletes may not know much about APR, it matters to coaches.

“Coaches take this stuff personally, too,” Stephens said. “They have their own APR scores, too. Their APR scores travel with them.”

That means when a coach leaves a school, his APR will follow him to his new job.

Responding to the Associated Press article, Joe Callero, head coach of the Cal Poly’s men’s basketball team, said he isn’t angry, but rather disappointed. He used the word “irresponsible” three times to describe the article.

“(My students) are doing excellent,” he said. “(Senior guard) Jamal Johnson is graduating this year and (senior guard) Kyle Odister has already applied for graduation.”

Academic Progress Rate calculation and the men’s basketball team’s standing

The APR represents the graduation rate of a particular program, but only student-athletes on scholarships contribute to this rate.

In calculating APR scores, there are two points possible for each student-athlete: a retention point and an eligibility point. The 963 APR the men’s basketball team earned for the 2012-2013 academic year, for example, means the athletes have earned 96.3 percent of all the points possible.

The NCAA alleged that the 930 four-year APR standard, which will be applied starting in 2014-2015, predicts a graduation success rate of approximately 50 percent.

“In athletics, if we have a 50 percent graduation rate, we’re in trouble,” Stephens said. “Because that is not what our institution is.”

Cal Poly teams have kept up with the school’s graduation rate of approximately 74 percent, Stephens said.

Stephens said he has uploaded the 2012-2013 APR scores of the men’s basketball team to the NCAA database, but it won’t appear in the NCAA’s public report until June.

This rate will be used to determine the team’s eligibility to participate in next year’s tournament.

The rate is significantly higher than the past one: The team earned a 959 four-year APR and a 972 two-year average. The highest single-year APR by Cal Poly during those four years was 981, for the academic year 2011-2012.

These numbers, however, are not fixed. If an athlete leaves Cal Poly and comes back to graduate, he or she will add points to the final score. On the other hand, if an athlete leaves Cal Poly for a different school, his or her team will lose points.

The Associated Press article also mentioned two possible penalties for teams falling below the NCAA’s APR standards: losing up to 10 percent of scholarships and being banned from postseason play.

Eric Burdick, the associate media relations director for Cal Poly Athletics, said neither of the penalties will apply to Cal Poly athletes.

In fact, many Cal Poly sports teams earned impressive four-year APR scores for 2008-2012:

Men’s tennis: 1000

Men’s golf: 990

Women’s soccer: 993

Women’s basketball: 988

Burdick added that the 550 student-athletes on Cal Poly’s 21 sports teams are continuing to improve their APR scores. He said the men’s basketball team has improved their APR in recent years.

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