Sunday, June 20, 2010

Breaking Down The APR

In 2005 the NCAA established the Academic Progress Rate, or APR, to measure a university's success rate in retaining and keeping eligible its student-athletes. Scores are released for every team at every university, and they are based on a rating of up to 1000 averaged over a four-year period of time. The NCAA's benchmark for success is 925, meaning any score below this number is grounds for penalties. Since it is a relatively new system and four-year averages are being accumulated for the first time, penalty precedents are just now being established.

Fortunately for fans of Oakland basketball, there is nothing to worry about as the Golden Grizzlies have thus far been securely above 925. The new data was recently released, figuring in the 2008-2009 year into the four-year average. The Oakland University men's basketball team had a four-year APR of 962, while the single-year APR for 2008-2009 was a resounding 981.

So what exactly does this mean? Well, the APR is a rather simple measurement. Essentially, a team can receive up to 2 points per scholarship player per semester. One point is achieved if the player is academically eligible for the next semester, and another if the player returns for that semester (or graduates). Last season, for example, the men's team would have received four points total for Erik Kangas since he stayed eligible in both semesters, returned, and eventually graduated. Since Kangas was just one of 13 scholarship players on the team, a little math will reveal how many points are possible for the entire team:
13 scholarships x 2 points x 2 semesters = 52 points
Using this total, we can find the details in the 2008-2009 APR for the Oakland's men's basketball team. As seen in the table to the right, OU's 981 is actually only a single point shy of a perfect score. The lone detriment was the transfer of Matt Samuels. Since Samuels did not return to Oakland for the following semester, he only earned one point of a possible two for the winter semester. This is the only possible scenario I could work out for the missing point, which means that all 13 scholarship players stayed academically eligible in each semester for the 2008-2009 year.

The other case where a player would not earn a point is if he left early for the NBA Draft. For the longest time, most probably would not have envisioned this hurting Oakland, but it could have been a distinct possibility for next year's APR had Keith Benson stayed in the draft as an early-entrant. Since he was a redshirt on track to graduate, I am unsure of how this would have affected OU's APR. But it does begin to bring about the question of flaws with this measurement.

The most glaring weakness in the APR is that it penalizes a school if a player transfers out of the program. Players transfer for a number of reasons - sometimes over playing time, sometimes due to a bad fit - but it should not play a role in determining whether a team is meeting academic goals. Yet, the rule exists and does not appear to be going away anytime soon, so OU fans can expect the APR to be below 1000 each year given the program's tendency to have at least one transfer every year. Next year, for example, the APR may be 981 again because of the transfer of Jay Thames (and assuming the rest of the team stays academically eligible).

As for using the APR to compare institutions, there is yet another major concern. The NCAA does not set universal standards for determining eligibility; therefore, a player who earns a point at X university for staying eligible may not have been worthy at university Y. As a result, attempting to compare academic success based on this measure would be difficult to do accurately. However, the APR can be used to compare stability, where stability is a measure of how well a program has been retaining its players. (Note: The NCAA does not make available how each point was accumulated, so we have no way of telling if points went unearned because of ineligibility versus retention. But with a little deduction and other knowledge of the programs, a general picture can be painted).

Stability is something many fans have hoped to achieve in The Summit League, where universities have come and gone as often as coaches and players. The four-year APR average is not pretty, either. Four programs were under the 925 satisfactory level, and two were well under 900. Together, these totals bring The Summit League average to a paltry 929. Things are looking up, however, as most programs have posted improvements for 2008-2009 alone where the 10-team average was 949. Oakland's 981 is second only to Western Illinois' perfect 1000. Here are the full results:

By comparison, the Horizon League posted a four-year average of 956, and not a single program was below 925. Clearly, the Horizon League has achieved the kind of stability - not to mention on-the-court success - that should be envied by programs in The Summit League. Other thoughts, in bullet form:
  • When Jim Molinari took over the Western Illinois program, many thought he would bring to life the perpetually weak basketball team. While the Leathernecks have continued to have their fair share of troubles on-the-court, it is clear Molinari is building his program the right way. An APR of 1000 means he did not lose a single player, nor were any of them failing in the classroom. Expect further improvement by the folks from The Other Macomb.
  • NDSU and SDSU show again why they have been such solid additions to this league by posting very respectable APRs.
  • Dane Fife seems to be doing a solid job in Fort Wayne. If he sticks there, his program will surely break out of the .500 funk they've been in for quite awhile. If he leaves for greener pastures (which seems to come up a lot these days), the IPFW program would probably lose much of the stability it has found under Fife.
  • Oral Roberts and IUPUI are interesting studies. ORU has always had its fair share of impact juco transfers, and the APR reveals perhaps one of the reasons why is because it loses a few transfers itself every year. IUPUI, on the other hand, looks to be in shambles. This is not surprising considering some of the recent penalties they have faced. It would be great if one of the League's best programs on-the-court could find some stability off of it, though.
  • UMKC's 2008-2009 APR is no surprise. Typically schools will suffer a bit in this measurement when coaching changes occur, but it is unreal how unstable the program has been even three years after Matt Brown took over. Do not expect improvements in the UMKC APR next season as three more players recently left the program.
  • What is going on at Southern Utah? What exactly are they doing for The Summit League? I typically try to remain impartial or at least positive here, but can we please boot them from the conference already?

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