Grades cost baseball scholarships

John Ryan Casey

Two Arizona athletic teams could lose scholarships because of unsatisfactory academic performances, according to Arizona Athletics.

The Arizona baseball and football teams face potential restrictions on how many scholarships they distribute this year or next year, because of failure to meet NCAA requirements for graduation rates and academic progress.

While the football program, which receives 85 scholarships, is appealing the findings by the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate, the baseball program has chosen not to appeal and will lose a total of 1.17 scholarships next year – which is 10 percent of its available 11.7 scholarships and the maximum penalty – according to senior associate athletic director Kathleen “”Rocky”” LaRose.

LaRose was unable to comment on the specific number of scholarships the football team would lose because the team’s APR is still being appealed.

According to Roger G. Noll of the Milken Institute Review, the average Division I athletic scholarship is $12,000 plus the cost of tuition. At the UA, tuition is $4,498 for in-state students and $13,682 for out-of-state students this academic year.

The UA is one of eight universities across the country – Northern Arizona University and Arizona State University among them – whose information was not officially released by the NCAA today with the rest of the NCAA Division I 2004-05 APR because it is waiting for the results of the football team’s appeal. Instead, the UA released a copy of the report detailing the APRs for the 20 Arizona athletic programs on campus.

The APR, which measures academic progress at more than 6,100 Division I institutions, is calculated by measuring a school’s eligibility of student-athletes as well as its rate of retention during the 2003-04 and 2004-05 school years. Teams stand to lose scholarships by failing to meet the 925-point standard out of 1,000 possible points.

Players receive one point for staying academically eligible and another for staying at the school and eventually graduating; the team must earn 92.5 percent of these points to meet the standard. This is roughly equivalent to a 50 percent graduation rate.

Though calculated last year, the APR was only used to get an idea of how it worked to figure out “”what penalties would have been assessed had the program been ‘live,'”” according to the NCAA’s Web site.

On campus last year, a total of five teams – including baseball, football and men’s and women’s outdoor track as well as women’s indoor track – failed to meet requirements. This year, however, 18 of 20 Wildcat teams have already cleared the APR’s 925-point bar, including men’s basketball.

“”We’re happy that 18 of our sports are already sitting in a good position,”” LaRose said. “”But still understanding that we need improvements, we need to educate our student-athletes more; how not retaining them or not maintaining their eligibility can hurt not only themselves, but (also) their program.””

Women’s swimming topped the UA list at 989, followed closely by soccer at 988.

Five teams – men’s golf (963), and both men’s indoor (942) and outdoor (929) track as well as women’s indoor (941) and outdoor (930) track – met the 925 requirement after their original numbers were adjusted for squad size.

Teams consisting of less than 60 athletes whose score fails to meet the requirement can have their numbers adjusted mathematically by the NCAA as their data sets are smaller than the organization originally intended. The squad-sized adjustment will not be considered in APR calculation after next year.

Baseball

Baseball’s multiyear APR, 865, is due in large part to the number of players who chose to join the professional ranks following their junior years after being selected in last summer’s MLB draft. The NCAA has attempted to marginalize that effect by initiating a rule in which no player can compete in postseason play unless he or she technically would be academically eligible to return in the fall.

“”In the past, the NCAA said once you’re declared eligible for the year, you’re eligible through your entire regular season and then it doesn’t matter (as far as postseason is concerned) – as long as you remained a full-time student,”” LaRose said.

LaRose also hinted toward a common practice among some athletes who stop focusing on academics after they know they won’t be returning for their senior season.

“”But should an athlete realize he or she is going to turn pro before their NCAA Championships and decide not to go to class, then what happens is you go into your championship and you’re not eligible and you’re not retained,”” LaRose added.

The losses in scholarships – which are doled out in parts to members of the team, as baseball is an equivalency sport – leave the program with a total of 10.53 scholarships to hand out.

“”We obviously are saddened by it, but realistic with it,”” said Arizona baseball head coach Andy Lopez. “”We understand the challenges behind it.””

Though the team took a hit scholarshipwise, Lopez said he is putting it behind him.

“”The way I’ve talked to my staff is that we have just had a major arm surgery, a major shoulder surgery, a major elbow surgery, a major knee surgery and the guy happened to be on (a) 1.1 scholarship,”” Lopez said. “”And now we will move on.””

Last season, six underclassmen Wildcats signed with the MLB teams that drafted them, although former Wildcat pitcher Kevin Guyette, then a redshirt junior, had already graduated.

Football

The football team’s appeal of its 882 score cites factors related to multiple changes in the coaching staff over the past five seasons, LaRose said.

The Arizona football head coaching carousel has spanned four men over that time – Dick Tomey’s final year was in 2000, John Mackovic’s tumultuous tenure from lasted from 2001 through part of 2003 and his interim replacement that year was Mike Hankwitz – before settling on current coach Mike Stoops in 2004.

“”We feel that (the coaching changes) have been very disruptive to us,”” LaRose said. “”The No. 1 academic mentor in athletics is the coach.

“”Even though we have an outstanding academic counseling program, it’s the head coach who really has the hammer, so to speak, to keep athletes on task in certain cases.””

The university, which first appealed last week, could hear from the NCAA as today or tomorrow.

“”We feel very good,”” LaRose said of the appeal. “”We know (the coaching changes) impacted those athletes. We know that.

“”Let’s hope that we can convince the NCAA the same thing.””

– Lindsey Frazier contributed to this report.