The Arizona football team's graduation rate ranks at the bottom of the Pac-10 Conference but has improved enough to avoid penalties meted out as part of Tuesday's Academic Progress Rate.
The annual report, issued by the NCAA, grades every team at each Division I school on eligibility, retention and graduation rates. Tuesday's report averaged data submitted from the start of the 2003-04 school year to the end of the 2006-07 school year.
Those programs that fall below 925 — a score the NCAA deems equivalent to a 60 percent graduation rate — are subject to NCAA penalties, including scholarship and practice reductions.
Last year, the Arizona Wildcats football team scored an 893 and lost four scholarships, only to have one reinstated upon appeal. This year, the team posted a score of 903 but was not docked because it demonstrated academic improvement.
Three other UA sports — baseball and men's and women's outdoor track and field — also fell below 925 but were spared penalty for the same reason.
The men's indoor track and field program was penalized one scholarship for next season. The team scored a 921, but one athlete left school without being in proper academic standing. Because of that, the program was docked one full scholarship — the size of the aid that athlete received.
The UA men's basketball team landed seventh in the Pac-10 with a score of 933.
The football team avoided penalty not just because of its statistical improvement, said Mike Meade, the assistant director of Commitment to an Athlete's Total Success (CATS). The team was granted a waiver for a specific athlete, then earned "bonus points" for players who had left the program but returned to finish their degrees.
Meade would not specify how many "bonus points" the football team received but said the athletic department's teams received a total of 38. Meade said he is confident the UA's scores will only improve. Next year, the 2003-04 academic year — which he called "very weak" — will be replaced by the current school year in the four-year rolling average.
Athletic director Jim Livengood said he anticipates five teams posting a perfect score of 1,000 for one season in next year's poll — and more importantly, that all 19 teams will be above the 925 mark.
This year, the women's soccer team led all UA sports with a score of 989. The women's swimming and gymnastics teams each registered a 987. The highest-scoring UA men's squad was cross country, with a 978.
"When you look at our numbers for 2007-08, there's tremendous growth in terms of the APR on an annual basis," Livengood said.
Livengood credits the work of Meade and UA director of academic services Roger Grooters with aiding the improvement. The two were appointed by the student affairs office in spring 2007.
"I'm very pleased with how many people have understood this," Livengood said. "I would guess our student-athletes and our coaches understand the whole APR process as much or better than anyone in the country."
To help bolster its APR scores, the UA now will not release a transferring student from his or her scholarship until they are academically eligible. Since APR scores were first tracked in 2003-04, the number of students nationwide to leave school ineligible has fallen from 3.7 to 2.9 percent.
Bowl Championship Series teams avoided many of the penalties Tuesday — only eight men's basketball teams and two football teams lost scholarships. Two were in the Pac-10 — USC's men's basketball team lost two scholarships, and Washington State's football team lost eight. A total of 218 teams at 123 schools received some sort of penalty for poor academic performance.
The average for all Div. I teams was a score of 961, with male teams averaging a 951. Of the 29 sports measured nationwide, all but three — hockey, men's swimming and water polo — have shown improvement over the past four years.
NCAA president Myles Brand said he expects the NCAA to "assist" men's basketball teams by making recommendations in the fall to address the fact the sport spans two semesters and loses players to the professional ranks.
"Academic reform is here to stay," Brand said. "Progress is measurable, but there is continuing work to be done."
Arizona State 933
Oregon State 926
Washington State 916
Oregon State 935
Washington State 905
Arizona State 905