By Chuck Burton
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — The NCAA has released its list of APR penalties, and it should be no surprise that it’s the lowest-resource institutions of the FCS that have been disproportinately hit the hardest.
Seven schools that compete in football championship subdivision, including six HBCUs, were hit with multi-year punishments which include a postseason ban.
The APR is a formula concocted by the NCAA that came into place to address concerns regarding how student-athletes in certain sports were graduating.
As always, though, it’s the schools with the least that get punished.
The seven schools hit with APR postseason bans in football are Alabama State, Florida A&M, Prairie View A&M, Savannah State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Mississippi Valley State, and St. Francis (PA).
Of these seven, the largest athletics department, in terms of spending and revenues, is the Red Flash of St. Francis (PA), who spent $11.8 million for the year.
The average spending and revenues of these seven schools net out to $8.4 million per athetic department per year, and collectively amount to less than the dollar value the University of Alabama spends on football alone during a season.
These seven schools are clearly not being punished for having renegade programs, to put it mildly.
None of them have won an FCS playoff game in the last twenty years.
St. Francis (PA) hasn’t had a winning season since 1992.
Since 1999, Savannah State hasn’t had a winning season and has hired nine different head football coaches.
The last time Mississippi Valey State was in striking distance of a SWAC championship was when Jerry Rice was catching passes for them.
So if creating a football powerhouse wasn’t the reason, why are they suffering APR violations?
A much more likely reason is money.
The NCAA’s APR formula is determined by granting points per marking period for retention (staying in school) and staying academically eligible (maintaining a certain grade point average).
But note that half of the computation for the APR has to do with retention, not academics.
That means if an athlete drops out due to family finances or family issues, that counts against the schools APR numbers.
What unites these HBCU’s and St. Francis (PA) is that these schools are underresourced. With most spending less than $10 million annually on their entire athletic departments, any football scholarships have to frequently be split up.
The Red Flash operate in the Northeast conference, which actually has a limit of 40 offered scholarships for the entire football team.
The majority of the Red Flash players have partial scholarships or no scholarships, as do many of the players on all seven of these teams.
With half scholarships, when a student’s family’s financial situation takes a turn for the worse, many times it’s not enough to keep them from dropping out of school.
This is in addition to the fact that many of these schools have it as their charter to accept students that otherwise might not have a chance to go to college at all.
“We’ve been educating first-generation college attendees,” SWAC commissioner Duer Sharp said several years ago in an article for NCAA.com. “A lot of times, we are second-chance universities for kids who struggled and wanted another chance at an education and an athletic career in an atmosphere that is beneficial to them.”
With the way that the APR is calculated, these partial scholarship players count as full scholarship players if they have to drop out thanks to financial hardship. And remember, most of these kids are not going to sniff an NFL training camp – they’re in it, in many cases, as the first kid in their family to attend college, to graduate.
This is completely different to the situation at FBS schools where every recruited kid has a full scholarship. For them, family financial decisions do not play a part in eligibility at the school, and if they do struggle academically, there’s an army of academic helpers to get them through it.
“I’m embarrassed because of what came out,” one SWAC athletic director told me seven years ago, when the first APR penalties were coming out. “But if we had the resources to make it better for our students, we’d have done that. If we could afford summer school for all our athletes, we would do that. We want to make sure our kids get whatever they need to graduate.”
Though one might think that this is an oversight that would be easily corrected through the stroke of a pen, over the entirety of Mark Emmert’s time at the helm the NCAA, the organization has been unwilling to make changes to the system to help despite being aware of the problems for years.
Emmert recognizes the problem, but refuses to alleviate the penalties.
“We recognized that schools have different roles and missions and the challenges of hitting that 930, which we selected because it equates to a 50 percent graduation rate, varies greatly,” Emmert said. “At an Ivy League school that means one thing. At a lower revenue institution it means another. While there are significant challenges, we are headed in the right direction,” Emmert said. “On the other hand, having to restrict anyone from postseason play is not anyone’s choice, but it does have the impact of getting schools focused.”
It’s an old joke that the NCAA likes to bring the hammer down on its most resource-poor, vulnerable institutions in order to show how tough it’s being on the members of the biggest conferences, who, in football, did not receive one APR postseason violation in 2014 despite at least one high-profile case of academic fraud at one high-resource school, North Carolina, that has gone completely unpunished.
But instead of doing the right thing, by slapping the Tar Heels with a bowl ban and reinstating these seven schools’ postseason eligibility, it’s much more likely the NCAA will pat itself on the back and claim how dedicated they are to being tough on academics.
All the focus in the world won’t deliver the amount of financial resources these schools need.
After all, that’s been the way things have gone ever since they’ve implemented the APR – the NCAA is so mad at Mississippi State, they’re going to hand Mississippi Valley State a postseason ban.
Business as usual for the NCAA.