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APR released, Auburn OK … for now

Hit them harder, please.

The NCAA has released its annual Academic Progress Rate report for the 2008-2009 academic year. It’s a PDF at that link. How did Auburn do? It did … something. Let’s break it down into the good and the bad.

GOOD: The football team (of course that’s where we’re starting) is still clear of the sub-925 danger zone with a four-year score–i.e. the one that matters–of 935.

BAD: This year’s one-year score was a 915, pulling the four-year version down 14 points from last year’s 949. Another year like that–or worse–and Auburn will start to edge uncomfortably close to the 925 mark. I don’t think it’s likely, since this year is where Auburn’s feeling the biggest pinch from the Tubby-to-Chizik transition, but it’s not guaranteed; there’s still been a lot of attrition over the past calendar year. No need to sound any alarms, but it’s not the direction in which we’d like to see Auburn heading.

GOOD: The basketball team avoided any immediate penalties, despite their overall score of 916, and showed improvement by putting up a 936 for ’08-’09.

BAD: They’re still below the 925 threshold and–as I understand it–will lose  a scholarship if an ineligible player leaves the program. (i.e. They won’t be able to replace him. This is what the “0-for-2” discussion here means.) What’s particularly troubling is that we know that–barring some unforeseen academic difficulties for one of the new signees–one more player will have to transfer out of the Auburn hoops program before the start of next season, since Tony Barbee has 14 players and only 13 scholarships to give out*. Losing one scholarship off the end of the bench may not sound like a big deal, but those potential “Auburn basketball loses scholarship to academics” headlines won’t be fun. Here’s to hoping whoever departs has preserved his eligibility … and that Auburn continues to get its men’s hoops grades in full working order.

GOOD: All 11 women’s teams were above the 925 mark and none will be penalized. The women’s hoops team posted a 991, in the top 20 percent of all D-I schools.

BAD: Volleyball scored a hideous 882. Their four-year score is still at a comfortable 949, but what the hell happened this year? With an 885, women’s track wasn’t much better.

GOOD: Baseball’s overall score is at 932, above the punishment line.

BAD: It was a 906 this year. Baseball has it tougher than most sports because of the flood of draft departures, but still–this in the 10th-20th percentile for D-I, and I don’t think the NCAA will care all that much how tough they’ve got it if another rough couple of years drop the score blow 925.

GOOD: Knowing that a one-year penalty was coming (despite a strong ’08-’09 score that couldn’t lift it past the 925 mark), the men’s track team left one of its scholarships open this year and the NCAA considers the punishment already served. Though the cross-country team is also below 925, at 917, they also showed improvement and missed penalties thanks to the small size of the squad.

BAD: Auburn took an APR scholarship penalty in men’s track.

GOOD: After losing a scholarship last year, the men’s swim team posted a 973 to get their four-year average up to exactly 925.

BAD: We’re ending on a good note. There is no bad in this situation.

Overall, I know this post makes it sound like the bad far outweighs the good, and that’s not really the case this year. Only one program suffered any kind of penalty, and they’ve already served it. Two of the three revenue sports are still above the 925 mark, and the other made significant strides back towards it. Women’s hoops, women’s golf, and a few other programs put together sterling scores.

However, I think it’s fair to say things aren’t trending in the right direction. The two revenue sports that are above the 925 threshold posted scores beneath it. The other still isn’t out of danger. Swimming got out of the hole, but men’s track scored a 990 and still couldn’t. The horrible scores posted by volleyball and women’s track are going to haunt their average for years.

It’s not the end of the world. I know that some of these cases are bad luck, the natural vagaries of college students trying to maintain the ridiculously difficult balance between being a scholarship athlete and a full-time college student. But I don’t think I’m way out of line in suggesting that Auburn can do better. Our athletes’ academics are too important to settle for “not the end of the world.”

*Two things: first, I hate this. I hate this. I’m willing to give Barbee a modicum of leeway here–for now–because he may know already that one of his holdovers isn’t interested in sticking around. But dammit, we need to be trying to keep the kids that are already on Auburn rosters in school, not hoping that one of them just happens to want out before we give them the boot, Saban-style. That kind of professional-style perform-or-get-cut ruthlessness is not right for Auburn, and I’m desperately hoping this is the first-and-only time Barbee puts himself in this position.

Second: usually a team that might get stuck with this penalty will simply retroactively serve the one-scholarship punishment the year it happens–Auburn just did this with the track team–since the scholarship goes unused after the transfer. But Auburn hoops might not be able to do that, since all 13 scholarships would be filled even after the transfer. Auburn could still conceivably get around the issue with a waiver, which the NCAA has hardly seemed shy about giving out to teams–like Auburn–that are on their way up in the APR. But again: it’s embarrassing. Please, future transferee, don’t be ineligible.

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