CAA again on good side of NCAA academic ratings

With the NCAA’s annual data dump of academic scorekeeping, the Colonial Athletic Association’s athletic factories demonstrated again that they know their way around the classroom, or at least can tailor curricula to keep the jockocracy on good footing.

Towson men’s basketball was the only one of the conference’s gajillion teams hit with a penalty under the Academic Progress Rate (APR), and that was a carryover from prior dismal performances that landed the program in APR jail last year.

Only five teams scored below the threshhold that prompts NCAA scrutiny. One of them — Georgia State men’s tennis — is on its way out the door.

You can find the NCAA APR database here.

The APR is designed to track eligibility and retention. There are two primary measures: a rolling four-year average and a one-year snapshot. A perfect score of 1,000 means that everybody stayed in school and progressed toward a degree. Athletes leaving school and/or not remaining eligible lower the score.

A score of 925 equates approximately to a 50-percent graduation rate. Below 925 also subjects a team to possible penalties, including scholarship reductions, limited practice time and postseason ineligibility.

Nearly all CAA teams were well above the cut line. The exceptions were: Towson men’s hoops (871), UNCW men’s hoops (901); Hofstra men’s cross country (921); GSU men’s tennis (923); and Delaware baseball (924).

You’ll recall that Towson and UNCW hoops were ineligible for the NCAA tournament last season due to poor APR scores. The CAA followed suit and prohibited them from competing in Richmond, to remove the possibility that an ineligible program win the tournament and the league’s automatic NCAA bid.

Both are eligible to compete in next year’s NCAA tournament, and thus the CAA shindig, because of progress made from 2010-11 to 2011-12.

Under the new Pat Skerry regime, the Tigers made nearly as big a jump in their one-year APR (800 to 939) as they did competitively. The program’s 871 APR still prompted a reduction in practice time to four days per week.

UNC Wilmington made an even bigger one-year jump, from the 821 that helped nuke its four-year average and prompted the penalties, to a 980 for 2011-12. The Buzzes are back to full practice weeks and postseason eligibility.

The CAA’s newest member, the College of Charleston, fits the league’s academic profile. The multi-year average of C of C’s 17 sports is 981, with seven teams at 990 or higher. Men’s basketball has the lowest score (954), just above the national average of 952.

Looking ahead to 2014-15, new member Elon had nine of its 16 teams score above 990. The Fighting Feenix’ 16 teams have a multi-year average of 990. Men’s basketball and tennis, and women’s cross country and golf scored 1,000.

New CAA football members Albany and Stony Brook appear to be solid academic fits, as well. Albany (962) has been above 950 three of the past four years, highlighted by a one-year score of 986 in 2011-12. Stony Brook football’s (954) APR improved seven consecutive years, until the most recent number, and the Sea Wolves were 958 in 2011-12.

CAA commish Tom Yeager, along with other league honchos, have maintained throughout realignment and expansion that they’re looking for compatible institutions, academically as well as athletically.

Though the conference has taken turns in the spotlight, with Final Four runs by George Mason and VCU, and to a lesser extent, FCS national championships, athletics don’t drive the train at league schools.

That attracted Yeager to the CAA all those years ago and has kept him in what’s become a very different league. When he left the NCAA investigative and legislative arm, he made the remark that he “didn’t want to be a mouthpiece for the mob” — meaning he was looking for a conference with academic and institutional integrity, where schools don’t routinely cut corners in the name of wins and money, and wind up on the NCAA infractions docket.

Though the APR has its flaws and critics, the numbers and the CAA’s competitive and academic track record indicate that Yeager made a wise decision.

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