Arizona lagged far behind most of its Pac-12 peers in Academic Progress Rate scores for both football and men’s basketball in 2014-15, though both programs still have four-year averages that remain well above the penalty zone.
The UA football team had a 916 APR score, worst in the Pac-12, while men’s basketball was 11th with a 906 score. But in four-year averages, which can result in penalties for those under 930, football has a 955 rate and men’s basketball is at 979.
All other UA sports were also over the 930 line in four-year averages, with women’s basketball (947) being the lowest and gymnastics (a perfect 1,000) being the highest. The scores were released by the NCAA on Wednesday.
“Our overall APR numbers are very healthy and we also know that through this process that you’ll have some years that are better than others,” Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said. “For this current year we’re in, the numbers are very much trending the way we want them to.”
The APR is a rolling four-year average of scores that measure academic progress and retention. Each scholarship athlete can earn up to two points each semester, sometimes known as “at-bats”: one each for staying eligible and one for returning.
The total percentage of “hits” in those “at-bats” over the two semesters are then multiplied by 1,000 to get the final score. In men’s basketball, for example, a team of 13 scholarship players would have 52 total chances to score per year — though waivers and other factors can change that number — so their 979 score implies the program averages about only one miss per year.
While men’s basketball was hurt in 2014-15 when multiple players left early for pro basketball while ineligible, Byrne told the Star that in football a “combination of factors” led to a poor single-year APR number that same academic year.
Byrne said football’s 955 four-year average is “healthy,” being 25 points above the threshold that can lead to practice-time reductions, postseason bans and other penalties. That 955 figure does rank 11th in the Pac-12, however.
“We take this very seriously,” Byrne said. “For this current academic year, our fall numbers are significantly improved and in fact should be one of our better APR numbers on record. And the spring semester is heading in the same direction.”
Byrne said men’s basketball even has a chance to reach a perfect score in 2015-16 based on its fall semester pace. But while student privacy laws kept Byrne from offering specifics, the numbers make it clear that the Wildcats were hurt in 2014-15 by players who didn’t finish their academics strongly before leaving.
Players who leave early and sign a pro contract while academically eligible do not cost their schools any APR demerits. But if they leave while ineligible they can cost the schools points for retention and ineligibility.
UA impresses that fact on those who leave early for the pros or other schools.
“When kids leave or leave early, they generally do what we ask them to do,” Byrne said.
UA may have lost a point when freshman Craig Victor transferred to LSU in December 2014. Players who transfer can cost two demerits (if they leave while ineligible), one demerit (if they are eligible but have less than a 2.6 GPA) or none if they leave with a 2.6 GPA or better, since the retention penalty is waived for transfers with higher GPAs.
Because Victor transferred to LSU right away, it appeared he left while eligible, thus costing UA a maximum of one point. But since UA’s 906 score implies it had four or five total “misses,” that means it probably also lost several points from players who left early to pursue pro basketball. In 2015, Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley all left school before their eligibility ran out.
But because UA does not have any players leaving for the pros early this year, and has not had any known eligibility issues so far, its chances of scoring a perfect 1,000 appear strong if transferring freshman Justin Simon leaves UA with a 2.6 GPA or better.
“As you know, it takes a very small number, especially in basketball, to have a dramatic impact on your number and we have had three really good years in a row,” Byrne said.
“This year, in the fall, we were back to being very strong and we are anticipating the same thing for the season. We have that opportunity” to be perfect.
The Wildcats were perfect last year, implying Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon left early for the NBA in 2014 while academically eligible. In fact, they technically had a score of 1,024, because they also received bonus points for the 2013-14 graduations of four former players: Joseph Blair, Isaiah Fox, Channing Frye and Jason Gardner. (Scores greater than 1,000 aren’t recognized on an annual basis but do factor into the four-year multiyear score.)
UA men’s basketball was also perfect in 2011-12, and had a 980 score in 2012-13 that factored into the four-year average of 979.
UA football’s four-year rate of 955 was based on a 980 in 2011-12, a 978 in 2012-13 and a 943 in 2013-14, plus the 916 in 2014-15.
The drop from 1,000 in the men’s basketball multiyear score means coach Sean Miller’s APR bonus will drop from $50,000 to $25,000 this year. Miller receives $25,000 if the team’s multiyear APR is 960 or better, and $50,000 if it is 1,000.
Football coach Rich Rodriguez will also receive $25,000, since his contract stipulates a bonus if the team’s multiyear APR is 952 or better.