The NCAA yesterday penalized 123 colleges and universities, including Morgan State, for having athletic teams that fell short of academic guidelines. The University of Maryland men's basketball team was below the cutoff score but wasn't penalized because players who left without graduating had already exhausted their eligibility.
Nationally, men's basketball programs were the chief offenders.
Morgan State was punished with the loss of 1.68 scholarships in football and two scholarships in women's volleyball. Anticipating the result, the school said it had already cut back its number of football scholarships last fall from 63 to 60. "That gives you a sense of how serious and how diligent the athletic department is," university spokesman Jarrett Carter said.
Maryland was among a number of prominent schools whose men's basketball team posted an Academic Progress Rate score below the cutoff of 925 but wasn't punished with loss of scholarships or other penalties. The APR is a measure of whether schools are keeping team members on track to graduate.
Maryland wasn't penalized because the NCAA takes into account when players have used up their athletic eligibility. "There isn't a penalty there because they would not be returning students, so that is an exception that we grant," NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said.
Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams said many top basketball schools besides Maryland are marked down because players routinely leave for pro careers.
"These guys have turned pro in Europe, and they're making a lot more money than if they would have stayed here and finished their degree," Williams said. "They have to make their money when the opportunity is there."
All other University of Maryland teams were above the cutoff score. The APR gives points to athletes for remaining enrolled and academically eligible. The points are included in a team's mathematical calculation, with 1,000 the best score.
Each team posting an APR score below 925 - which roughly corresponds to a 60 percent graduation rate - must develop an academic improvement plan, and Maryland created one last year after falling short of the cutoff score in men's basketball.
"We just outlined the efforts we are currently doing to raise our score," said Anton Goff, associate athletic director/academic support and career development. He said those efforts included having an academic counselor dedicated to men's basketball and encouraging players to take advantage of January and summer sessions when needed.
Williams said many of Maryland's lost APR points were because of players turning pro. He said some former players, such as Keith Booth, who is now an assistant coach, return to get their degrees.
An exception was Chris McCray, who was declared academically ineligible early in 2006. "He went below a 2.0 [grade point average] after the first semester of his senior year. That's the only one that ran into academic difficulty during his time here," Williams said.
Williams said four of six seniors graduated last year and all three are graduating this year.
Maryland's men's basketball APR was 906, which was below the average of 918 for all Division I men's basketball programs at public institutions.
Maryland football's APR was 943. The sport's average at public institutions was 925.
Morgan State's APR was 902 in football and 860 in women's volleyball.
UMES men's basketball scored 818 but was not penalized because of academic improvements and other considerations, the NCAA said.
Coppin State's men's basketball and baseball teams scored below 925 but weren't penalized because the teams' performances eclipse that of the general student body, according to Coppin and the NCAA.
The NCAA grants a number of exceptions to schools scoring below 925. It says the goal is not punishment but rather to prod schools to improve - an approach some critics consider too lax.
The APR scores are based on four academic years starting in 2003-04.
About a third of the schools in Division I had at least one team penalized. In all, 218 teams at 123 institutions were cited. Prominent teams on the list included the men's basketball teams of Kansas State, Purdue, Southern California and Tennessee. Tennessee and West Virginia each had three teams on the list.
"Overall, there is much to be encouraged about with the latest data," NCAA president Myles Brand said. "When we started four years ago, baseball and football were in serious trouble. There has been great improvement in both of those sports. We are not out of the woods, however. There are individual institutions that have seen steady decline in APR over the last four years."
Men's basketball remains a concern, Brand said. He said a committee is studying what factors are keeping the scores down and what can be done.
On April 24, the NCAA announced that several programs in Maryland rank in the top 10 percent of their respective sports in academic progress. The teams include 12 from Navy, six from Loyola, two from Mount St. Mary's, two from College Park and one from UMES.