This month, most American universities and colleges with popular athletic programs will proudly watch thousands of students walk across a stage, shake hands with academic officials and congratulate them on earning their degrees — after really great basketball tourneys and bowl series.
But then there are some schools who have fallen under scrutiny for a lack of academic progress and are actually being penalized for not upholding NCAA Division I standards in its Academic Progress Rate metric, or APR. As a result, certain athletic teams have been banned from participating in postseason activities (UConn’s men’s basketball team, for example, was ineligible for play in the 2013 Big East and NCAA Basketball Tournament, although they returned this year to win the latter).
The APRs rules state that if half or more of student-athletes on teams are not on track to graduate, then the team will not be allowed to participate in postseason play.
For the coming academic year the APR ban, which affects 36 schools in total, have hit several HBCUs particularly hard. Although the protocol is intended to encourage stronger academic performance at all NCAA schools, officials at HBCUs feel their schools will be left at a financial disadvantage because larger, better-funded schools in conferences like the Big 12, the SEC and the ACC are able to give student-athletes the academic boosts they need. But in conferences like SWAC, which has had six schools banned, funding for academic help for their athletes is not within the budget.
And leaders at HBCUs are quite correct to call foul.
HBCU athletic programs that are banned from postseason play in 2014-15 include Florida A&M University (men’s basketball and football); Alabama A&M (men’s basketball, football and golf); Prairie View A&M University (football); Mississippi Valley State University (football); Savannah State University (football); University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff (football); Norfolk State University (men’s indoor and outdoor track); Delaware State University (men’s indoor track); and Howard University (men’s soccer, women’s lacrosse). Other schools are facing lesser penalties based on APR rules.
But these schools have all faced varying degrees of financial hardship and are consistently making cuts and scrambling for funds to keep their programs open, athletic and academic. This leaves them between a rock and a hard place . Without financial help from the NCAA, they are not likely to show vast year-over-year improvement.