Penalties hurt a football team, and the University of Maryland squad will start the season burdened with two infractions picked up recently from the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
One, announced this month, was for violating practice rules. The other, more serious infraction, announced in April, was assessed for poor academic performance by the Terp players. Both occurred under the tenure of former head football coach Ralph Friedgen, who was replaced in January byRandy Edsall.
The sanctions stem in part from the 2009 season. The team had a down year both on and off the field —winning only two of 12 games and bottoming out with a score of 905 out of 1,000 on its Academic Progress Rate. Teams that fall below an APR score of 925 can lose scholarships, and Maryland's poor showing, after years of disappointing scores, resulted in the loss of three of the team's 85 scholarships. That penalty marks the first time Maryland has lost scholarships in any sport since the NCAA began collecting academic data in 2003-2004. We hope it is the last.
The workings of the Academic Progress Rate are a bit arcane. It is based on the number of team members who stay enrolled and academically eligible. But it is the rule that college teams must abide by, and Maryland's new athletic director, Kevin Anderson, was right to attack the football team's weak performance, hiring a new chief of the academic support unit, adding a new staff position for football academics, and beefing up a support staff that, in the words of Mr. Friedgen, had been "overtaxed."
Mr. Anderson comes to Maryland from the U.S. Military Academy, and he has been suitably no-nonsense. Mr. Edsall had a reputation at Connecticut, where he coached before coming here, as a by-the-book coach who ran a clean program and made sure his players paid attention to their studies. He has made that a focus since coming here, and he has both reported progress with most players and taken action against those who haven't kept up. It's the kind of attitude Maryland's football team needs if it wants to get back on track, and we hope Mr. Anderson's pick for the university's new men's basketball coach, Mark Turgeon, will take the same approach, since that team has historically had more trouble academically.
Mr. Edsall is a sufficiently straight arrow that he is the one who detected and reported the team's most recent infraction to the NCAA. In effect, the team practiced more each week than NCAA rules allowed. It had characterized some team meetings as well as practice and weight lifting sessions as voluntary, when in fact they were mandatory. In addition, interns and graduate assistants had improperly observed and participated in summer workouts.
The resulting penalty, which was recommend by Maryland and approved by the NCAA this month, called for the loss of 21/2 hours of practice time from the normal limit of 20 hours a week for practice and games.
This penalty carries additional sting because, as The Sun's Jeff Barker has observed, the team is installing new offensive and defensive systems this season. The first few games — against Miami, West Virginia, Temple and Towson — will be a good test of how much that loss of time will hurt.
As for the extra 21/2 hours per week that the players will now enjoy, we have a suggestion on how they should use it: Hit the books. That could push up the team's APR and give the University of Maryland football team and its many followers something to cheer about.