8 DI teams hit with postseason play bans

by Leslie Turk

Are you concerned, Gov. Jindal, about this week's NCAA release of the Academic Progress Rate report for the nation's collegiate athletic programs?

Are you concerned, Gov. Jindal, about this week's NCAA release of the Academic Progress Rate report for the nation's collegiate athletic programs?

You should be. They're an indictment of your administration's support of Louisiana higher education.

The NCAA sent out its APR reports Tuesday, covering all of its Division I member schools, and eight schools were hit with postseason play bans in different sports because of those reports that measure eligibility and graduation rates.

Five of those schools won't be in the NCAA basketball tournament even if they go unbeaten this year, and the other three won't be part of the FCS (formerly I-AA) national championship even if they run the table this fall.

No big deal, huh, gov? It's only eight out of around 250 D-I schools.

But half of the nation's great unwashed, in the world of athletic academic performance, make their home in your state - and that's an embarrassment to all of us.

APRs are calculated annually by the NCAA and are a two-part rating, based on the numbers of athletes that maintain pace toward a degree and remain academically eligible, as well as remain in a program. The most significant of those rates is based on a four-year average, with the just-released scores based on data from the 2006-07 season through the 2009-10 athletic year.

The not-elite eight include a double-barrel assault on Southern's Jaguars, who were hit with a one-year ban from the postseason in men's basketball and are also barred from football postseason play this fall. Louisiana-Monroe and Grambling are both banned from the NCAA basketball championship with their APR struggles. ULM's score in men's basketball for 2009-10 was 712 out of a possible 1,000 - way below the 925 benchmark for schools to avoid penalties.

ULM has already been booted from the Sun Belt Conference's own basketball tournament next March. It is unclear yet whether Southern and Grambling will be allowed to play in the SWAC's basketball tournament, but if they did and one of them won that event, imagine the embarrassment for the league if their tournament champion couldn't advance to the "big dance."

Also unclear is Southern's eligibility for the SWAC football championship game, but that could be a moot point since the SWAC schools don't participate in the NCAA's FCS championship bracket anyway.

The nation's other teams hit with postseason bans were basketball teams at Cal State-Northridge and Chicago State and the football squad at Idaho State.

None of the eight can be considered national athletic powers, and their penalties are as much a statement about resources as they are about poor academic performance. ULM has by far the lowest budget of the state's FBS (formerly Division I-A) schools, and Southern and

Grambling are at the bottom in funding among the state's FCS schools.
And who controls that funding? Why, it's our elected officials. It's no secret that higher education in Louisiana is a poor stepchild when compared to the financial support given to schools in most other states.

Critics may argue that athletic funding is part of the problem and is a needless expense in tight budget times. But the reality is that athletic funding totals less than 3 percent of the monies funneled into state colleges and universities, and athletics is the conduit for more income and alumni support than just about any other area of any school. Factoring in economic impact in their communities, the state's combined athletic programs more than pay for themselves.
Instead of pointing at that 3 percent, the questions that need to be answered: Are the other 97 percent of our schools' departments struggling just as much as compared to their peers elsewhere? And does the lack of a finite measuring stick, such as the one provided by the APR to gauge athletic academic performance, mean that our schools are way behind in so many other areas besides athletics?

The answer to both questions, unfortunately, is yes.

University presidents and administrators, even those who are hamstrung by dwindling resources in Louisiana, almost universally call their athletic programs their "front porch," their "windows" - the most visible parts of their schools.

Governor, those windows at ULM, Grambling and Southern look pretty dirty right now, and someone's got to do something about it pretty darn quick before the lack of state support sends others into the abyss.

[Veteran sports writer Dan McDonald, who worked as a sports information director on the Division I level for 23 years - the last 19 at UL Lafayette from 1980-99 - will be inducted into the College Sports Information Directors Hall of Fame in late June at College Sports Information Directors of America's national convention in Marco Island, Fla. McDonald is vice president of McD Media Inc., a marketing and public relations firm founded by his wife, Mary Beth, and is a regular contributor to The Independent.]