A proposed policy that would require teams to reach academic benchmarks before their coaches and athletic directors can cash in on performance-based bonuses has drawn mixed reviews.
The University System of Maryland's Board of Regents is expected to vote on the policy Friday during a meeting at Frostburg State. If passed, any new contracts signed by coaches and athletic directors at the system's schools would include stipulations that require teams to meet a certain Academic Progress Rate for them to receive bonuses based on other incentive clauses in their contracts.
The proposed policy is believed to be fairly unique — university system officials said they did not know of any other state that ties coaches' performance bonuses to APR.
Several coaches and administrators have praised the policy, at least publicly, including Coppin State athletic director Derrick Ramsey, whose department previously lost scholarships for poor academic performance.
"We bring our kids in to graduate. We don't bring them in here to become pros," Ramsey said. "Academics has always been No. 1 for me, and winning championships has been 1B for me because at the end of the day, if our young people haven't graduated, we've basically prostituted them."
But at least one high-profile coach was more tempered — if not critical — in her response.
"I think it's asking a lot," Maryland women's basketball coach Brenda Frese said when asked about the proposal this week. "I think it's difficult, especially when you're talking about men's basketball and football, and you're talking about players that leave and go on to play professionally — that impacts your APR."
The APR was created by the NCAA and implemented in 2004 to ensure coaches were graduating a majority of the players they recruited. A score of 930 or below — which means at least half the athletes on a team's roster failed to graduate during a four-year period — results in NCAA sanctions that can include the loss of scholarships, practice time and inclusion in postseason competition.
Teams can also be affected by the number of players that transfer out of a program. If an athlete leaves a school, he or she must have been there for at least a year, must have at least a 2.6 GPA and must go to another four-year school for their former team not to lose APR points.
Players who leave to play professionally before their eligibility expires need to be in good academic standing upon their departure. For example, when Alex Len was a first-round pick of the Phoenix Suns in 2013, he was six hours short of being eligible. He completed those hours over the summer so Mark Turgeon's team would not lose APR points.
The new policy would affect only future contracts, and would apply to schools in the university system that field Division I teams. The measure received the unanimous support of a board subcommittee at a public forum in Baltimore last week, and is expected to pass.
It also has the support of Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson, who said: "How can anybody not support anything that's supporting the academic mission for student-athletes?"
Anderson's women's basketball coach, however, has doubts.
"I think if a student-athlete doesn't want to get the grades or go to class, a coach can't get them there," Frese said. "I think anyone you would hire at Maryland will always have a standard of how important academics is. No one holds academics any higher than the coaches here at Maryland. They shouldn't be tied hand-in-hand."
Frese is among the coaches whose contracts contain a number of performance-based incentives. She received an extra $100,000 for her team's run to the Final Four this year. Bonuses similar to that would be erased if a coach's team falls under the APR set by the NCAA.
Frese and Maryland men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon already can receive bonuses tied to the academic performance of their players, according to copies of their contracts obtained by The Baltimore Sun.
Frese earns an extra $30,000 if more than half her players graduate and $50,000 for graduating 70 percent or above. Turgeon's contract calls for him to be paid $50,000 for a perfect APR score (1,000) and $25,000 for an APR score between 950 and 999.
The men's basketball teams at two state schools have been affected by the APR standard, which was put in place by the NCAA after years of discussion about academic reform in college athletics.
Coppin State lost four scholarships in men's basketball over a two-year period in 2011 and 2012, and Towson was not allowed to compete in the postseason in 2013.
Michael Grant, Coppin State's men's basketball coach, said he supports the new policy, but that it should also apply to coaches who are already under contract.
"Grandfathered in or not, we all should be able to make sure that the No. 1 thing that these kids are here for is to graduate and then play college basketball or college football or whatever sport that they play," Grant said. "But our goal is to make sure that once we make that commitment, we're holding everyone accountable."
While conceding that a better job can be done by coaches and administrators monitoring a player's grades, Towson men's basketball coach Pat Skerry said that one group of players shouldn't be punished for the actions of a past group.
Skerry, who replaced Pat Kennedy as the NCAA deliberated what kinds of sanctions to give the Tigers, also suggested that a new policy should reward coaches who "inherit something and you fix it." Skerry noted that his current contract already includes clauses tied to academics.
UMBC athletic director Tim Hall said "to reward coaches and administrators first and foremost for academic success certainly makes sense."
"If you have the right coach and the right coach is recruiting the right people, usually the academic piece will take care of itself," Hall said.
From a hiring standpoint, Anderson said he doesn't know if the proposed policy would affect the way contracts are negotiated in the future.
"Without going through a search [for a new coach] with this in, I have no idea," he said. "I hope not."
Maryland football coach Randy Edsall's contract includes several potential bonuses, including one for $100,000 that he received this season because of a 25 percent increase in ticket sales.
Edsall said this week that he doesn't have any issue with the new policy, stating that maintaining high academic standards for student-athletes is "something that we should be doing" because of the small number of them that go on to play professionally.
"Our main purpose here [is] as educators, as teachers, as parents, as mentors, and I think my record speaks for itself in terms of what we do academically and how our kids achieve in the classroom," he said. "I know I have [academic benchmarks] in my contracts. Those things are in there. But that's something that we should be doing."
Turgeon said that while he appreciates Frese's position, he doesn't think it ever will be a problem for his team to remain above the APR line.
"I've never been below it, don't plan on being below it," he said. "That will never enter my mind. We should always be above that line."