July 18, 2012
This will not be another exercise in tearing down the NCAA or UConn. This will stand as Walter Harrison's rebuttal to people like me who argued that not only are the latest academic data the fairest data, the implementation of the latest data is entirely feasible.
UConn's final shred of hope to play in the 2013 NCAA basketball tournament disappeared Friday when the Committee on Academic Performance (CAP) reaffirmed its current policy on data collection.
Some will continue to argue UConn was the victim of double jeopardy in the shifting NCAA landscape, twice punished for the same academic shortcomings and thrice punished because the NCAA hates Jim Calhoun. Others will argue UConn was the victim of its own neglect, consumed by a national plague in which athletics supersede education. Argue all you want, folks, it's officially over. Waivers were requested and denied. Appeals were filed and rejected. Ding. Ding. Ding. Count the Huskies out at least until 2014.
My one remaining question — an answer I swore I'd chase to the end — was specifically why couldn't the APR numbers from the 2011-2012 school year be used to determine who could play in the 2013 tournament. If they had been, with UConn rebounding in the classroom, the Huskies would be eligible.
When the NCAA announced last October that it was banning schools from the 2013 tournament as a penalty for falling short of an APR score of 900 over a four-year period or 930 for a two-year period — both periods ending in 2010-2011 — even Harrison said it would be better to have consequences of behavior tied to the year most recently reported.
"We couldn't do it and still be fair," Harrison, University of Hartford president and CAP chairman, said Tuesday. "We looked at a bunch of models with the idea of could we speed this up because it would be a little fairer to student-athletes. In the end, all the things we looked at as alternatives would do more harm than good.
"As a committee we were convinced what we have now is better than any change we could make to the system."
"It was unanimous," said Harrison, who pointed out a Big East voice, Villanova athletic director Vince Nicastro, was on the committee that met in Indianapolis. "And all of our votes are not unanimous."
Harrison said the CAP looked at six models, including the status quo. Under the current system, each athlete earns one retention point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible each semester. The retention issue weighed heavily in this.
"A significant number of students use the summer to get their grades up or get the number of credits they need," Harrison said. "And you cannot count a retention point until the fall semester. You have to know if they are back and on the team."
Most schools use a census date, Harrison said, often six weeks after the start of class. A census date is the date a university counts its students as officially enrolled. With students changing classes, working out financial aid problems, etc., the initial enrollment numbers are notoriously unreliable. Enrollment data submitted to the state, the manner budgets are done, all employ census date data.
"On the West Coast, primarily, there are still a number of schools that don't start until late September, early October and they are quarter schools," Harrison said.
Many are in the Pac 12 — Stanford, Washington, Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State. Harrison estimated 10 percent of the schools overall are on the quarter system.
"It's not a large number, but we want to be fair to everyone," Harrison said. "And that means some census dates aren't until early November.
From there, Harrison said, it takes about six more weeks for NCAA staff to examine all the data.
"There are frequently mistakes by the schools, not intentional," Harrison said. "When a Division I institution has 20 sports, there are a lot of athletes. The [NCAA] staff told us the earliest they could be reasonably satisfied it was all accurate, was early January."
And that's when fair process enters the stage.
"We believe strongly that although we can be reasonably certain of the data, we can make mistakes," Harrison said. "Schools should have an opportunity to make their cases."
Harrison said the two-level appeal process can take roughly six weeks and that takes you into March. The NCAA Tournament starts in March.
So there you have it. He paints an impossible picture. One, he said, that was not painted haphazardly. He estimated that CAP members spent at least 10 hours over three meetings debating the matter.
"That's a lot of time," Harrison said. "The [NCAA] staff probably spent hundreds of hours looking at alternative models at our direction."
The CAP members examined whether the use of a retention point was the best predictor for graduation, Harrison said. They looked at collecting data by season, with fall, winter and spring cutoff dates. They determined it would drive schools crazy reporting so often. Notably, they looked seriously at enforcing basketball data separately.
"There was a lot of discussion," Harrison said. "The earliest we conceivably could announce penalties was January. That's fine if you were UConn and think your scores are getting better. But what if scores got worse and you have to say, 'Sorry, you think you're eligible for the tournament but you're not.' It's late for the seniors to transfer [as Alex Oriakhi did per NCAA rules]. We decided it wasn't fair."
Harrison had a point to make for those who project eligibility.
"UConn 'knew' their scores were better," Harrison said, "but they really don't know it until the student-athlete walks into class in the fall [for the retention point]."
The intent is to stick with this system, although Harrison conceded one matter could change it. In the next year or two, he said, there will be a general review of the policy on transfers. A letter recently was sent out by NCAA President Mark Emmert to examine the spectrum of possibilities.
"The basketball coaches want tighter controls on transfers, that's where it stems from," Harrison said. "On the other end of that spectrum is [columnist] Joe Nocera and his buddies at The New York Times and some sentiment I think within the Department of Justice for fewer or no controls on transfer … feeling it's for the student-athlete's welfare.
"If [transfer rules] were to change we'd want to go back and look at our [eligibility] rules. For example, if we're going to allow more transfers maybe the retention point doesn't make as much sense."
One thing will change. Under pressure from football bowls — surprise! — trying to gauge the availability of schools, APR penalties are going to be announced in April instead of June.
Outside of Connecticut, he said, there is a perception he is pro-UConn. Inside, he said, one that he is anti-UConn. He has received some angry emails and people have approached him at restaurants about UConn, but there have been no personal threats.
"I know there are some people who think I have some animus toward UConn," said Harrison, who recused himself from the APR processes involving UConn basketball and Central Connecticut soccer. "That's as far from the truth as could be. I know that in my heart of hearts. I'm trying to be fair to everybody. I think the system we have is fair."
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