The NCAA released its complete Division I Academic Progress Rate report and, as The Star reported Tuesday, the news was bad for the Gamecocks’ basketball program.
The Gamecocks will be barred from postseason play this coming season, not because of any recent academic shortcoming, but because it failed to meet the conditions of a previous waiver.
In addition to the postseason ban — the second for a JSU sports team in four years — the basketball team will lose 10 days and three games off its schedule, face in- and out-of-season practice restrictions and be limited to 11 scholarships.
“We are certainly disappointed with today’s announcement of our postseason ban,” JSU president Bill Meehan said in a statement. “We are taking significant steps to improve the academic success of our men’s basketball program ... to ensure that we meet and exceed the NCAA’s APR standards in the future.”
APR is a real-time look at a team’s academic success each semester or quarter, taking into account eligibility, retention and graduation. This year’s report covers the academic years of 2007-08 to 2010-11.
The basketball program posted a single-year APR of 898 to bring its four-year score to 889. The NCAA four-year cut line for penalties is 900. The team has never had a multi-year score reach it.
In one part of the report, the NCAA said the JSU men’s basketball program was subject to a postseason ban, while another section footnoted it was not subject to postseason ineligibility because of “demonstrated academic improvement.”
In a situation that made JSU’s case “a little unusual,” Diane Dixon of the NCAA staff said Wednesday the Gamecocks’ penalties do not stem from the new APR standard, but because the program failed to meet the conditions of a previous waiver.
The program received a waiver from historical penalties last year, which, for the first time in the initiative’s history, left no JSU program facing APR penalties.
“All of us involved in this did an awful lot of homework and prepared ourselves and I know the NCAA people were impressed with what we’re doing,” JSU athletics director Warren Koegel said. “Unfortunately, (the NCAA) are very serious that everybody who has fallen below a certain number were in jeopardy of this happening.
“No matter what we said I think we were going to be punished for not meeting our waiver, and the waiver was a chance to get us out of that hole that was created. Now our goal is to never have any situation that is every going to put us into this again.”
The Gamecocks’ football team faced a postseason ban for its history of APR shortcomings in 2009, prompting a major increase in athletic department resources toward academics.
Included in the APR Improvement Plan for basketball is adding a new position on coach James Green’s staff that will direct men’s basketball operations, including student-athlete support services.
The men’s basketball program has made strides academically during Green’s tenure. In the last three years of this latest reporting cycle, the program posted APR scores of 940, 974 and 898 (with a team GPA of 2.04). Its multi-year score, however, was strapped by a 769 left during the transition from former coach Mike LaPlante.
“It’s killing us because it’s keeping us in the waiver situation for all that time and we didn’t mean it,” Koegel said of the low score. “That waiver only will be taken off the boards when we get our multi-year and single-year score to where we no longer have to deal with it. It’s unfortunate this wasn’t taken care of.”
That 769 will come off in next year’s report, at which time Meehan said “we feel confident we will meet and exceed the NCAA’s APR standards (900 next year, 930 the following).” It’s such a low score the Gamecocks effectively could have an even lesser single-year score than this year and still meet the mark.
Koegel said his goal as AD is to have all of JSU’s teams post a minimum 950 on their multi-year and single-year APRs. Only basketball, football (915) and men’s cross country (909) missed that mark this year.
“We have full confidence in the job coach Green is doing in our men’s basketball program,” Meehan said. “(He) has improved his program’s status in the classroom and on the floor despite playing two of his first four seasons with less than the NCAA maximum of 13 scholarships.”
As a condition of being ineligible for the NCAA Tournament, the Gamecocks also are ineligible for the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, since that winner earns the league’s automatic bid to the Big Dance.
The Gamecocks will still play a full OVC schedule, with the games counting in the standings and toward any tiebreakers to determine tournament seeding.
The OVC confirmed JSU’s ineligibility for its conference tournament but had no further comment on the Gamecocks’ situation.
The ban comes at a time when the program was starting to make strides in the league. Although the Gamecocks haven’t had a winning season since 2005-06, they did win their first conference tournament game since that year this past season.
“James knew there was a possibility of that,” Koegel said. “It certainly hurts to see those kinds of things, but I think we have some resilient young people.
“This is something we wished had not happened, but we are going to do our best to move forward.”
Green deferred all comments regarding APR to the administration. He said he could discuss the program’s plans to overcome the restrictions “soon.” Athletic department officials asked no players be interviewed about the ban, but traffic on several of their social media pages appeared to express anger and disappointment.
In all, 15 programs nationally received postseason bans — 10 in men’s basketball, three in football — perhaps none more famous that national basketball power Connecticut.
The Huskies are urging the NCAA to consider data from 2011-12 to become eligible for next year’s NCAA Tournament, but Walt Harrison, the president of the University of Hartford and chairman of the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance, said he does not “expect us to make any changes retrospectively” if any at all.
“I feel very strongly this is a game changer,” Harrison said. “It sends a message to our teams and our critics we mean business. Teams need to take care of first things first or they won’t be able to play in the postseason. They need to think hard about who they recruit and how they support their student athletes.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.