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Notre Dame passes NCAA’s first academic test

Heather VanHoegarden | Thursday, March 3, 2005

More than half of Division I sports teams had at least one subpar academic progress rate (APR), according to NCAA statistics released Monday, but Notre Dame was not one of them.The newly formulated academic standard shows that the Irish are above the minimum rate in every Division I sport they participate in, and have perfect scores in 13 of 22 sports, according to the data, which is based on the 2003-04 school year. Only Duke had more teams with perfect scores in Division I-A, with 15 of 24 teams registering 1,000 on the 1,000 point scale.With the new rules by the NCAA, teams would face scholarship losses if a sport underperformed per the standard. For example, teams that don’t meet the NCAA minimum would lose a scholarship if a player leaves because he or she is academically ineligible. However, these penalties won’t be enforced until next fall. Points are awarded based on a player-by-player basis, taking into account whether the player remains at the school, and remains academically eligible so that he or she graduates. The maximum points a team can earn is 1,000, and the NCAA minimum is 925 – the number the NCAA says is equivalent to a 50 percent graduation rate.”I think this is a little bit of a learning experience, an educational process for probably everybody involved,” Notre Dame senior associate athletic director John Heisler said. “The fact that this is a different way of going about measuring academics and graduation rates, and it’s a more current set of criteria that what’s been available in the past.”With the new standard, a team can earn up to two points per player, per year. If a player transfers or leaves early for a professional draft, he or she earns one point. But if that same athlete leaves because he or she is academically ineligible, then zero points are earned. Heisler said that one of the main advantages of the APR is the relevancy of the numbers.”I think we’re all used to dealing with the graduation rates that have not been completely up to date because of the length of time they permit for the graduation to take place or for the recording process,” he said. “In some cases, you’re talking about people who enrolled eight or nine or 10 years ago, where as this is a completely up-to-date measurement for the most recent academic year.”Heisler said that in order for the APR to take full effect, there is going to be a learning process for all NCAA schools.”I think it is a learning experience for everyone to have an appreciation for what the numbers mean, and in the case of anybody who falls short of the 1,000 mark, how does that happen?” Heisler said. “It’s going to take a while for everyone to appreciate exactly what it is that causes you to not receive the full complement of points.”The lowest numbers at Notre Dame came in football, where the Irish scored a 934. But Heisler said this number can be deceiving because of the unique way Notre Dame handles fifth-year seniors in the program.At Notre Dame, fifth year seniors are often not eligible in the second semester of their fifth year per the NCAA standards because they are not taking the minimum number of credits.”There’s a little bit difference in philosophy in terms of the computation that was probably affected to some effect by some fifth year people,” Heisler said. “That may be the kind of thing that you go back to the drawing board and explain a little about how each sport works.”Despite the fact that the APR will be used to compare all schools in the NCAA, Heisler said the number doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story of student-athletes at their respective schools. Different schools have different standards for student-athletes, as the NCAA allows them to, and this could distort the APR to an extent. For example, at Notre Dame, student-athletes have to maintain a 2.0 grade-point average, a standard enforced by the University, not the NCAA.”In some cases, our numbers are a reflection of our own eligibility standards, which are not necessarily the same as other people’s,” Heisler said. “In some cases, you’re not always comparing apples to apples, because what the NCAA requires is a one-time per year certification of an athlete in terms of their eligibility. So once that certification takes place, the NCAA doesn’t worry how that person has done academically until the time comes to certify everybody again.”Heisler also expressed concern that at Notre Dame, the numbers might not always accurately reflect a school’s progress in academics.”In some cases, our numbers may reflect that our student-athletes are being held to higher standards,” he said.As far as the overreaching effect of APR, Heisler said it will reinforce to schools that they need to bring in student-athletes that can make in it in the classroom as well as in the athletic realm.”I think it’s probably going to make coaches in particular think twice about anybody that they recruit and their ability to be successful academically, because your program could be penalized if you are recruiting and giving scholarships to people that aren’t going to make it,” Heisler said.