930 And You: The 2011 Tournament Under The New APR RulePosted by jstevrtc on August 17th, 2011
The new APR rule is a fact. 930 Or Bust is happening. So let’s talk about it.
On the ESPN blog last week, Diamond Leung, a gentleman we’re happy to file under Official Friend Of RTC, posted an article in which he listed the 12 teams that would not have been eligible to compete if the new APR standard had been applied to the 2011 NCAA Tournament. #1-seed Ohio State? Watching from home. Kawhi Leonard and San Diego State? Sorry, they’d have been studying for finals and not playing basketball. Leung also noted how eventual champion Connecticut would not be invited to the 2012 edition to defend its title since, according to the latest numbers, over the 2006-07 to 2009-10 academic periods the Huskies managed an APR of just 893. They could go undefeated throughout the entire 2011-12 season and it wouldn’t matter. In that scenario they’d win as many NCAA Tournament games as Centenary.
Mr. Leung’s article got us thinking: if there would have been 12 fewer teams in the Dance last March, who would have replaced them? Among the unlucky 12, seven were automatic qualifiers through conference tournament titles and five were at-large entries. A quick examination of who would have replaced the disqualified teams shows how putting a binary, all-or-nothing, you’re-in-or-you’re out emphasis on a specific number would have affected the Tournament; as you’ll see, the reverberations go deeper than just the aforementioned 12 teams.
Assuming conferences get to pick their NCAA Tournament representatives in the event that APR-disqualified teams end up winning their post-season tournaments, for this discussion we’ve assumed that the NCAA Tournament spots, er, “vacated” by disqualified teams would go to the regular season champion…where possible.
- Alabama State was given a 16-seed and a ticket to Dayton for the First Four after winning the SWAC Tournament. Their APR of 907 would have DQ’d them from the NCAA, so the spot would go to Texas Southern. Actually, it wouldn’t, because of their 890 APR. So, if we keep going down the SWAC standings until we find an APR-acceptable school, we land at 9th-place Alcorn State (4-24, 4-14) and its 944 rating — the only SWAC school above the NCAA’s APR demarcator. Congrats, Braves. You and your four wins would have been dancing last season.
- Morehead State (906) would have been replaced by regular season champ Murray State (932).
- #1-seed Ohio State (929) would have been replaced by #3-seed and regular season runner-up Purdue as the Big Ten’s auto-qualifier, except that the Boilers posted an APR of 919, sending them back to the house. This means #4 Wisconsin (970) would have been the AQ, and an at-large spot would have opened up in the bracket.
- St. Peter’s (928) would be removed as the Metro Atlantic auto-bid in favor of Fairfield (946).
- #2 San Diego State (921) would be replaced by MWC salutatorians #3 BYU (991), opening up a second at-large space.
- UC Santa Barbara (902) would have been forced to take a powder and allow Long Beach State (950) to step in for the Big West.
- UT San Antonio (885) would have been shown the door as the Southland Conference representative, with McNeese State benefitting (948).
The at-large bid winners were replaced using the top two seed lines from the NIT, in order.
- Kansas State’s 924 would have meant no Wildcats in the show and they would have been replaced by Boston College (972).
- Purdue would not have been eligible to replace OSU as noted above, and would have allowed Wisconsin as an at-large to change to an auto-bid to replace the Buckeyes. The Boilermakers’ at-large spot would have been taken by Alabama (973).
- Syracuse (912) would have been replaced by Colorado if the Buffs hadn’t logged an APR of 926, so instead it’s Virginia Tech (985) who would have snagged the spot.
- UAB (825) would have gotten the ziggy in favor of Cleveland State (944), putting the 27-9 Vikings into the First Four in their home state.
- USC (924) would have missed the Dance, meaning we wouldn’t have gotten our picture taken with the Song Girls at the First Four and St. Mary’s (953) would have inherited the at-large bid.
- The two at-large bids remaining would have gone to Miami (FL) and their 975 APR, and Washington State (971).
For fans of the RPI, the average RPI of teams that would have been booted from the Tournament was 78.2. The average RPI of replacement teams was 103.1, meaning that if the new 930 APR cutline had been enforced last season, the average RPI of NCAA Tournament teams would have dropped 24.9 points. And we wouldn’t be having conversations about how Alabama and Boston College and Virginia Tech got the shaft by the selection committee. Instead, we would have been hearing analysis on why teams like Missouri State, Colorado State, Dayton, and a 19-13 Oklahoma State team would all have had legitimate cause to be frustrated upon falling victim to the newly-burst bubble. Actually, no, we wouldn’t have. Neither Missouri State (with an APR of 908) nor Colorado State (859) would have been eligible, so that means squads like California (17-14), Northwestern (18-13), and eventual NIT champion Wichita State (24-8) — these are NIT 4-seeds, mind you — would have been among the likely “Best Four Out” bubble teams. The theoretical purpose of the NCAA Tournament has always been to put the best 64-68 teams in the college game in the bracket. Everyone knows it’s not perfect in that regard, but of course we love it for what it is. The new APR rule would move the NCAA Tournament even further away from that ideal, letting in inferior teams which in turn hurts the level of basketball being played, resulting in a less exciting product.
All that being said, how can anyone fault the NCAA for wanting to elevate an academic standard? In the past, 925 was the APR cutoff for scholarship loss and a dip below 900 meant that, in order to be allowed to play, a school had to demonstrate improvement or provide evidence that your school’s president was at least aware of and trying to do something about the problem. Now 930 is the Ultimate Threshold — no more showing improvement, no more presidential involvement to take the pain away. Where 900 was squishy, 930 is concrete. If you fall through the trap door at 930, it doesn’t open again for a year. This is no arbitrary number, either. 930 is said to represent a 50% graduation rate, which is admirable enough of a goal, and the all-or-nothing aspect of it shows that the NCAA means business. Can anyone realistically make a case that trying to improve academic performance and graduation rates among its member athletes and institutions is a bad thing?
The problem we (and most people) have with 930 Or Bust is not that it represents a desire to make sure players keep going to class, but that the practice of placing such importance on a single specific criterion — in this case, the number 930 — has been shown to be ineffective. Remember No Child Left Behind? Good intentions, there, but because punishments and rewards were based on specific scores on standardized tests taken by the students, teachers taught only what was on the tests, thereby killing any opportunity for their students to gain comprehensive understanding of a subject. Administrators learned how to report results in creative ways to make it look like their students were doing better than they were so their school or district would receive more federal funding. Have you ever looked at those US News and World Report college rankings in which people place so much stock and wondered why a school can appear as a top 50 institution one year and be relegated to the middle tier section in the next issue, or vice-versa? It’s because the numbers used to create those rankings are self-reported, and the folks whose job it is to manipulate that data for their school’s benefit are constantly finding new ways to do so. How do you think the NCAA gets the figures they’ll use to determine the post-season fates — and therefore, bank accounts — of its member schools? It’s easy to see how even coaches and players can (as the popular phrase goes) “game the system,” too. The APR considers only players who are on scholarship. How long until we see basketball teams with 20-man rosters comprised of, say, eight players with perfect GPAs who average 0.0 minutes per game while the kids who don’t do so well in the classroom, if they go at all, are changed to walk-ons whose educations are otherwise creatively financed? Also, in the scenario described above, look at the pickle facing the Connecticut players. Teams would find out a year in advance that they wouldn’t be eligible for post-season play. Good luck signing top-flight prospects with “We won’t be playing in the NIT or the NCAA Tournament for at least a year, maybe more,” as part of the recruiting pitch.
It’s not like the players already on an affected team would take such sanctions lying down, either; if you think the high number of transfers is alarming now, wait until enforcement begins on the new APR standard. That’s another critique of tying such a huge penalty with the all-or-nothing standard of 930, or any number: the NCAA sees it as a one-year suspension from the post-season, but because of what would happen to a team’s personnel and because of the hit the school would take in the pocketbook, such a punishment would affect the program for much longer than a single season. Schools with other profitable sports — football, for instance — could absorb that blow a little easier. It wouldn’t be so easy for the smaller guys. We understand the NCAA is serious about this and the penalty is supposed be harsh. We get that. But putting so much importance on a particular number is not the answer. The NCAA would never know if 930 Or Bust is increasing APR averages because players, coaches, and administrators are finally buying in and making sure everyone cracks down on the classwork, if it’s because those same people are successful in gaming the system, or if it’s because everyone’s finding ways to fudge the self-reported numbers to stay afloat of 930 and steer clear of the sub-930 undertow.
Around here we like to think that we’re good about talking up the NCAA when we agree with something they do with the same volume we use to criticize when we think they’re off-base on an issue. We’re not posting our thoughts on the new APR rule and taking time to illustrate how it would affect that holiest of holies known as the NCAA Tournament because we feel like wagging our fingers at the NCAA. We write this more out of concern for an organization in which we still believe, but is facing the fate of the man in The Police’s “Synchronicity II.” [Surely you know that one: Many miles away, something crawls to the surface/Of a dark Indianapolis loch…] If you’ve been keeping up with college sports at all over the last two weeks, two stories that have evolved in parallel are the new APR standard and what looks like a gathering wave of further conference realignment, a development which would move us closer to the era of the four 16-team superconferences (so called) that would eventually secede from the NCAA. The juxtaposition of the stories was comedic — the Ph.Ds from the NCAA on a retreat thinking up new rules to make life harder on its members while some of its biggest members are elsewhere, not-so-quietly aligning, making decisions that would make secession a lot easier. We give full credit to the NCAA for its good intentions as far as trying to come up with something to spur kids on in the classroom, but history teaches us that the method they’ve evidently chosen simply doesn’t work. It might result in better APR numbers, but it won’t necessarily produce smarter students. We’re confident the NCAA can figure something out in time. Frankly, right now, it has bigger problems — like its very existence — with which it should concern itself.