Monday, June 7, 2010

Playing the APR Game...

In college athletics, lots of acronyms make or break players, coaches, teams … acronyms like RBI, or PPG, or PCT. Fans know these acronyms and stats, and can spout them off without hesitation. I still to this day know that in 1982, National League Cy Young winner Steve Carlton hit .218 while National League home run champion Dave Kingman hit just .204, albeit with 37 home runs (I didn’t even have to look that up, and no lie, in high school I was on the Quiz Bowl team mostly for the sports knowledge and that question came up…I was the only egghead who even remotely had a shot at that and I nailed it).

However, there is another acronym that programs, and college coaches, more and more are getting judged on, and it’s a stat that is increasingly becoming as important as wins and losses. It’s three little letters with a mighty big punch.


Academic Progress Rate … a Division I system only that is greatly misunderstood, and in reality, probably hurts schools at ISU’s level more than BCS schools and leagues, but it is a system that is here to stay, and so the game, as they say, is afoot.

APR seems like a simple process to figure out in theory. Of course, to me, a car engine and how it works is a simple process in theory…put gas in, turn the key, and hey, it works. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that, and the same can be said with regards to APR.

In its simplest form, APR basically takes a student-athlete and breaks them down into two parts per semester, eligibility and retention. For this exercise, we will utilize a fictional player to make this easy…Charlie Brown (Bengal fans are chuckling I’m sure). Charlie Brown is worth two points per semester, one point for retention (staying in school) and one point for eligibility (being eligible the next semester), so if Charlie Brown is eligible and still at ISU after his fall semester, then he gets two points out of two. After the spring semester, if Charlie Brown comes back in the fall eligible, then he gets another two points out of two.

Seems simple enough, but it’s really not…especially on the retention area. If Charlie Brown leaves ISU but is eligible, then he is a 1-for-2 (he gets the eligibility point but loses the retention point). But there are exceptions…if Charlie Brown leaves school with a 2.6 GPA and transfers to four-year school, whether or not he plays sports, then the retention point is dropped completely, and Charlie is just a 1-for-1 for his last semester (the real world example of this is Taylor Marchione, who played softball last semester and is transferring to Oregon State to be closer to her family. Taylor isn’t going to play softball at Oregon State, but her GPA is high enough that Taylor’s APR score for the spring 2010 semester is 1-for-1, not 1-for-2. If they transfer to a junior college, then you lose the point.

Sometimes you can save that retention point in ways that only the really big schools can, for things like becoming eligible for the draft, or personal hardship, or many other ways that I can’t even think of.

Sometimes, you get nailed for having kids graduate…seriously. Lucas Steijn for men’s basketball cost ISU two points because he didn’t fill out the official graduation form, meaning that according to the NCAA, he didn’t graduate, even though he did. Since he was out of eligibility (having played four years) and not returning to ISU (since he graduated), Lucas was an 0-for-2…despite graduating.

In APR, the magic benchmark score is 925 … that score is figured by taking all the points earned in a sport, and dividing it by all the points possible. Let’s say a team for an academic year gets 46 points out of a possible 49, that percentage is .939, and then you multiply that by 1000, and that APR score would be a 939.

If a score is under 925 for four years (The overall APR is a four-year rolling score, which means every year the newest score will replace the oldest score, so a score stays in the equation for four years), and if a team has an 0-for-2 student-athlete, at that point, a team might incur penalties, but I’ll be honest, I don’t understand how some of the penalties come about.

Now, the reason all of this is coming out is to kind of put in layman’s terms the APR, because on Wednesday at noon or so, the NCAA will release their APR penalties, and while ISU was given high marks from the NCAA and given public recognition for having a perfect score in women’s cross country, ISU is going to get dinged pretty good in football.

By pretty good, what I mean is losing scholarships, counters, and practice time. ISU will lose two counters, meaning on national signing day, you can only get 23 kids instead of 25, and ISU will lose 3.84 scholarships (this is a change from what I posted yesterday, as I now have access to the official stuff, and it's 3.84, not 6.3 scholarships which is better). The practice time is four hours, meaning the team can only have 16 hours of countable time together, and they must take two days off a week, not one. That penalty is probably the one that hurts early in the season when school is in session, as during the actual season the team usually late in the season had Sunday and Monday off, so that will start earlier.

The good news is that this is not new news to ISU and the department, and it actually helped us get some things we sorely needed, the number one thing being an extra academic advisor in the form of Quinton Freeman. “Q”, as he was known when he was ISU’s starting safety back in the early 2000s, takes the pressure of 270 student-athletes off of Matt Steuart and gives ISU two academic advisors instead of one. The other thing that was implemented pretty quickly after we realized what some of the numbers were (and let’s be honest, of the 15 sports, ISU is doing really well in 13 of them, it’s football and softball that are struggling, and the softball thing is really tied to the coaching instability and the newness of the program) is what Jeff Tingey called the APR Improvement Plan.

This plan was modeled after some programs at other schools that have had the same issues and it has worked. The basic parts of the plan are as follows (this is from our release which is coming out when the NCAA announces the APR stuff nationally) …

All potential student-athletes are required to have a cumulative GPA of 2.5 (excluding all PE activity classes). Matt Steuart, assistant A.D. for academics, and the Registrar's office will determine the GPA by removing PE activity classes, and all potential student-athletes need to either have scored at least an 18 on both their English and Math scores on their ACT or scored at least a 450 on both their English and Math scores for the SAT. In addition, Steuart will approve all transcripts along with the Office of Academic Affairs, and Steuart will also approve all scholarship tenders.”

This plan has been in plan already through this recruiting class (the one signed in February), and I can tell you it’s been an adjustment for everyone in how they handle recruiting, because there are some kids that normally you would recruit that you just can’t right now. Basically, until the APR scores go up, it’s hard to justify taking a chance on a kid because the downside (a kid not making it) is too great a risk to take.

The bonus is that there is clear evidence that the plan works and can really help not only a program with APR issues, but really help other teams with staying out of what I refer to as “APR Hell”. The real issue is APR is like a soft chair…easy to get in it, and hard to get out of it. Kudos to coaches like Joe O’Brien, Brian Jannsen, and Allison Gibson who understand how to play the APR game (and make no bones about it, there is a game to it), and next year once O’Brien has four years of APR scores from his own time here at ISU, he is going to rank among the nation’s top programs.

Coach Z has really been snake bit a good deal with the retention issues, because he runs into a situation where in football, kids don’t pan out. A walk-on leaving the program like Ben Laporta doesn’t hurt, and Kyle Blum graduated, so that doesn’t hurt. The Keith Goins’ and Kenny Viser’s of the world? Those hurt. That’s been a learning process for the football coaching and recruiting staff, and they are getting better. We won’t know this year’s score until the fall, but the early indications are it will be better, but I couldn’t fathom a guess as to where or how much.

The really interesting thing is to watch the official NCAA release and look at how many penalties are incurred by BCS schools (i.e., schools that have the money, resources, and academic infrastructure in place to help avoid penalties), and look at how many are from mid-major and smaller conferences (i.e., schools that need more funds/manpower/stuff/computers). John Canzano of the Oregonian has a great piece about APR and the issue at Portland State here and he talks about some of the loopholes and things much clearer than I can.

In the end, it’s going to look and sound bad, and it was a hot topic way back when on the Bengal Den and around the ISU internet presence. Make no bones, it’s a cause for concern, but it’s one of those things where it was seen coming down the pike and the solution was put in place a while back to get a handle on it. I suppose there are bunch of woulda/coulda/shoulda things that might have prevented this from even happening, but the only thing we can do about the past is learn from it so that we don’t repeat it. What Bengal fans should feel good about is that for the most part, ISU’s programs are doing well in the APR, and a plan is in place to round out the programs that are on the low end.