michael mullady

The men’s basketball team will lose two scholarships as a result of the first academic progress report based on information collected from the 2003-04 and 2004-05 academic years.

Although the official list of NCAA teams with violations will not be made public until February, Cal Poly Athletic Director Alison Cone and men’s basketball coach Kevin Bromley expect a two scholarship penalty to be assessed for the 2005-06 year.

“I know men’s basketball (will be penalized) because we had a slow start in the first year (of the reform package) and we had some attrition last year,” Cone said. “Our two-year rate in that sport won’t be very good and we will be hit with the scholarship penalty. It seems to me that we’re close in one or two others – I don’t know whether there was a penalty involved.”

Several players left Cal Poly’s men’s basketball team for various reasons last season. Kameron Gray was initially declared academically ineligible and eventually left the team, as well as the school. After the Gray fallout, Fernando Sampson announced he would not return to the team for the 2005-06 season and Lew Finnegan revealed his intentions to transfer soon after.

“I understand why the NCAA made the changes,” Bromley said. “I do, however, feel it should be up to each institution to decide how they want to handle the graduation rates, but the NCAA has taken that out of their hands and put the pressure back on the student athlete.”

Under previous NCAA guidelines, Finnegan’s departure would not have counted against Cal Poly. However, the latest academic reform package, which passed in April, 2004, holds schools accountable for transfers.

In August, 2005, the Division I NCAA Board of Directors announced an adjustment to the Academic Progress Rate to allow more leeway for athletes leaving school early to play professionally. The unanimous decision will also apply to circumstances that are “considered to be beyond the point of control of the student-athlete or the team/institution,” according to a press release by the NCAA.

Transfers, however, are not included in the NCAA’s classification of “beyond the point of control,” for a team or school. While the press release noted that the NCAA is looking into future adjustments to account for transfers, Finnegan will still count against Cal Poly for next year’s statistics.

Situations such as transferring should be accounted for on a case-by-case basis, Bromley said. For example, Finnegan transferred to Bentley College in Waltham, Mass. in order to be closer to his hometown of Lexington, Mass. Finnegan’s situation is out of Cal Poly’s control, Bromley said.

Another issue to be addressed, Bromley said, is why two scholarships will be taken away rather than one. According to the reform package, the maximum loss of scholarship is 10 percent of the team’s scholarships allotted.

“Ten percent of the scholarships at the Division I level in men’s basketball is really 1.3,” Bromley said. “Well, I don’t know how 1.3 gets rounded up to two. I’m not a mathematician, but I’ve never figured that out.”

Though the program will incur the scholarship loss next year, Bromley is confident in the academic environment provided to his and all Cal Poly student-athletes. While he wasn’t about to point fingers, Bromley said it’s “because of guys like Kameron Gray, because of Fernando Sampson; those guys didn’t graduate, they quit going to class, for whatever reasons. They have their own reasons, and when this was implemented those young men weren’t recruited under me for those circumstances.”

While Gray and Sampson were two of the factors leading to the program’s sanctions, Bromley said the reform package was “grandfathered in.”

“If (the reform package) was in place before those young men, they shouldn’t be able to affect our program because they weren’t recruited under those kinds of restrictions,” Bromley said. “Halfway through their career they put this rule in. Well, maybe we don’t recruit those young guys or maybe they have a better understanding that I do need to stay in school to help out the university and get my degree.”

Understanding the APR

What precisely is an APR and what does it mean for college athletics? In short, it means institutions will be more accountable for student-athlete matriculation than ever before. But the terms are still unfamiliar to most.

Gary T. Brown published an article for the NCAA Web site with the purpose of defining new terminology and covering the basics of the APR. Here is a quick recapitulation of his “APR 101.”

The Academic Progress Rate is the new determining factor for NCAA enforcement of academic progress. It lays in sharp contrast to the NCAA’s previous graduation assessment. Whereas the former system was based on graduation rates during a six-year window, the APR will provide a real-time illustration of every school’s academic performance in each sport.

The APR system is based on two factors: eligibility and retention. The players on a given roster receive at most two points per term; one for being academically eligible and the other for remaining at the university.

Add up the total points for a team and you end up with a decimal number; multiply that by 1,000 and you get an APR score. The base score used by the NCAA is 925, equal to about a 50 percent graduation rate.

Cal Poly has three teams who are under the 925 base, but there are exceptions to the rule. In other words, while a team may fall below the 925 standard, that doesn’t mean sanctions will be assessed.

Teams with a small roster can fall under the “confidence boundary” exception. Because these smaller teams have a smaller sample space, the NCAA chose to give a margin of acceptable scores to these squads.

The example used by Brown on the NCAA Web site is a team with 10 athletes and an APR of 920. The “confidence boundary” would allow the team 900-940 and, because the higher end of the boundary is above 925, the team is granted temporary reprieve. However, when the NCAA moves to a four-year sample space to assess penalties, this option might not be available.

What this means for Cal Poly’s men’s tennis team is the likelihood of temporary amnesty.

Cal Poly’s men’s basketball team also qualifies for the “confidence boundary” exception, but isn’t likely to post an upper-end score above 925.

Unlike other teams at Cal Poly, the baseball team’s APR will be calculated slightly differently. The team had multiple players leave early for the Major League Baseball draft last spring. Those early departures will fall under the NCAA’s recent decision to count such early exits differently if the player left despite also being academically eligible.

The most scholarships the NCAA can take away is 10 percent of the team’s total scholarship limit. Such a penalty is called a “contemporaneous penalty.” This is the category that applies to Cal Poly’s men’s basketball team.

The more drastic type of penalty is the “historically based” punishment. The price for this sort of punishment is much more severe and is based on a four-year rolling average APR.

Historically based penalties include the loss of scholarships, postseason bans and restricted membership in the more severe cases when academic performance fails to improve over time.

The package is sure to headline most major sports news outlets in late February when the official APR reports are released for the two-year time frame which penalties will be based upon.

While controversy looms over how to count athletes who transfer and what penalties should be assessed and based on information from “x” number of years, there has been much positive feedback already.

“I think it’s a good idea and I think it will work,” Cal Poly athletic director Alison Cone said. “It’s not perfect, certainly it’s not perfect, but one thing that I have observed at Cal Poly, which Cal Poly generally recruits academically oriented student athletes anyway, but even at Cal Poly it has changed the focus of who you recruit and how you deal with students while they’re here. Our coaches have been wonderful at keeping graduation as the ultimate goal for all of our student athletes and that has always been a focus here.”

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