Tuesday marked the release of this year's NCAA Academic Progress Rates, the NCAA's five-year-old ratings system that grades programs based on, among other things, their players' academic standings during and after they leave school. No one loves the APR. Plenty hate it. But it's what we've got, it's better than what we had before, and whether coaches like it or not, it's the way things are done now. (In other words: deal with it.)
Yesterday, yours truly dug in to the more notable ugly marks in this year's APR report, specifically Connecticut's loss of two scholarships thanks to its substandard four-year average of 893.
Likewise, there are a host of individual schools worth highlighting for their impressive academic work. One of them, the national title runner-up Butler, finished with a perfect four-year APR ranking of 1,000 -- one of only four in the country. The other five were Texas, Kansas, Columbia, Holy Cross and DePaul.
Another, Indiana, notched a perfect one-year rating that improved the program's four-year average to 929, an ascent that finally got it above the 925 cutline and out of the post-Kelvin Sampson academic hell that cost the Hoosiers two scholarships and a public reprimand from the NCAA in recent seasons.
And what about conferences? Which high-major league is worthy of commendation for its efforts? Which league deserves a punitive seat in the dunce corner? Thanks to some handy breakdown rankings from CBS blog pal Matt Norlander, you don't have to search the NCAA's APR database yourself. (Though, hey, if you're bored, don't let me stop you.)
In the end, the Big Ten fared best among the power-six conferences in APR this season, ending with an average APR of 966. Michigan State and Penn State lead the way with impressive 995 marks; Northwestern follows suit with a 990; and Michigan and Wisconsin round out the higher reaches of the conference with 970. Indiana's 929 was the lowest mark in the Big Ten, but given where the Hoosiers were academically during and after the Sampson era (not to mention the huge turnover in the program since), I'm betting you won't hear fans in Bloomington complain all that much.
The rest of the conference rankings shake out like this: ACC (961), Big East (959), Big 12 (958), Pac-10 (952) and -- last and least -- the SEC (947). The SEC's rating was especially hurt by Arkansas's APR of 892 and LSU's 905, and South Carolina and Auburn's respective 934s didn't help much, either.
Those assuming Kentucky's huge reliance on one-and-done players and its high rate of program turnover would lead to a substandard APR would be, well, wrong: The Wildcats tied with Vanderbilt for the best APR in the league at 974.
Which is, come to think of it, a good reason why many of the complaints about the APR hurting programs whose players leave early for the draft are off-base. Sure, coaches can't control if a player decides to skip his second semester classes to work out for the NBA draft. But he can create a program-wide ethos of expectation: If you play here, you stay in good academic standing, even if that means finishing your spring classes when you know you're going to be drafted No. 1 overall, as Kentucky guard John Wall was following the 2009-10 season.
This stuff isn't always within a coach's control. And coaches can game the system to produce the results they want. But coaches who complain about the current system hampering recruiting or draft opportunities probably need to simmer down. If Kentucky can do it despite having five players drafted in the first round of the 2010 draft, I'm guessing other programs don't have much to complain about.
Anyway, those are your conference APR rankings. If I'm SEC commissioner Mike Slive, I'm sending a strongly worded memo to quite a few of my conference's head coaches and academic support staff today. In that memo, I'm gently reminding them that traditionally, the SEC doesn't exactly have the strongest academic reputation. Until this stuff improves, that reputation isn't going to go away.