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June 20, 2004

NCAA Readies For Negative Reinforcement

FROM THE NCAA, THE ORGANIZATION WITH A PROLIFERATION OF ACRONYMS, comes word from an early June meeting in Indianapolis on the measurement, analysis and penalties for athletics programs that fall short of yet-to-be established academic standards.

The acronyms involved include AEC, CAP, APR and GSR. Do you know what they are?

For most Americans, the acronym AEC stands for the Atomic Energy Commission. But the NCAA’s Division I Academics / Eligibility / Compliance Cabinet may soon eclipse the nukes group in public awareness. That is because the AEC (the NCAA’s AEC that is) has been empowered to essentially decide which athletic programs get disincentives, sanctions and penalties.

Similarly, Americans besieged for years by fast-talking radio commercials blurbing the blurry legalities of auto and home equity loans, have come to identify the acronym APR as “actual percentage rate.” But the NCAA has launched another APR that promises to outshine the loan acronym; theirs is the Academic Progress Rate.

The NCAA’s Committee on Academic Performance (CAP) will decree cut points—also known as the “APR cut”) below which teams will be subject to receiving disincentives. Non-performing teams would be subject to two sets of cut points -- one for contemporaneous penalties and another for “historically based” penalties.

The eligibility standards have been established from research on “typical” graduation paths. Research shows that student-athletes who reach 40% of their academic requirements after the first two years, 60% after three and 80% after four are very likely to graduate. These are not considered to be overly demanding, and the disincentives guidelines have been developed around them.

University of Hartford President Walter Harrison, CAP chairman, says, "The point of this entire effort is to improve the academic performance of our student-athletes, not to penalize. But you have to use the threat of penalties as a way to motivate the improved performance."

Although the disincentive / penalty portions of the new program have been fairly well established, the incentives portion remains fuzzy. Early talk of granting extra scholarships or other tangible incentives to high-performing programs has faded away.

The cynical consensus is that the only incentive is to “not get a disincentive.”

All CAP Chair Harrison could muster in the incentives department was the benefit of the “public recognition” that a school might acquire.


There’s a saying that goes “You can’t change the stripes on a cat.” Applied to student-athletes, one would conjecture that they either have “it” (academic prowess) or they don’t.

And if a student-athlete does not have “it,” then the disincentives will have the effect of (a)- getting them booted from a program; (b)- providing a roadblock for acceptance into the program in the first place; or (c)- subjecting them to “special help” by well-meaning athletics advisors.

The desired scenario (d)--that the new disincentives program would actually improve the academic performance of student-athletes--is highly debatable.

You can’t change the stripes on a cat.

(this 472 word excerpt—with accompanying commentary—was distilled from three articles totaling 3955 words, in the NCAA News of 6-21-04)