Academic push

New NCAA academic rankings will follow coaches from one school to another.

An important story that should be of particular interest to Kansas University and KU basketball fans was tucked away inside USA Today earlier this week.

The story carried the headline “Coaches’ academic ratings to be made public by NCAA.” It tells about an upcoming policy of the National Collegiate Athletic Association that compiles the “academic progress rating” of each coach at a Division I school.

The NCAA already compiles and releases APR’s on teams, but now these same ratings will be attached to individual coaches and will follow them from job to job. The news story uses Oklahoma basketball coach Jeff Capel as an example, saying his APR score will include his three years as men’s basketball coach at Virginia Commonwealth in addition to his time at Oklahoma.

The story says most basketball coaches, including KU’s Bill Self, are opposed to the new NCAA policy. The coaches claim they are being singled out in the grade matter when there are many other factors in determining an individual’s or a team’s academic record. Such factors include faculty, tutors and others on campus who play a role in how a student athlete does in the classroom.

Those favoring the policy point out, however, that having their APR records publicized will make coaches more likely to pay attention to the type of young men they recruit and to the academic abilities of those being recruited.

It is surprising Penn State President Graham Spanier disagrees or questions the NCAA policy, saying the coaches ratings “could have a modest influence.” He added, “realistically, wins and losses weigh most heavily on a coach’s reputation.”

This coming from the president of one of this nation’s major universities. Spanier’s position on this matter lays bare any belief that university presidents and chancellors honestly believe the football and basketball players at their schools really are “student athletes.”

Chancellors and presidents talk a good game, acknowledging the need to rein in the almost runaway spending on Division I collegiate athletics and contending their athletes are students first, not athletes taking customized class loads to advance academically and remain eligible to play.

These pompous university executives want to win on the football field and basketball courts just as much as their alumni do and they want a coach who can deliver wins, full stadiums and fieldhouses and post-season contests. The classroom grades of the players are not as important as their grades on the football fields and basketball courts.

Topping the USA Today ranking of coaches over a four-year period (2003-04 through the 2006-07 season) with teams currently ranked in the top 25 was former KU coach Roy Williams, now heading the North Carolina program, currently ranked sixth in the coaches’ poll.

Williams was followed, in order, by coaches at Villanova, Duke, Xavier, Notre Dame, UCLA, Michigan State, Syracuse, Arizona State, Oklahoma, Georgetown, Connecticut, Minnesota, Louisville, St. Mary’s, Pittsburgh, Michigan, Texas and Baylor. These universities were ranked above the NCAA “passing grade” benchmark. The schools in the coaches’ poll top 25 that didn’t meet the benchmark were Clemson, California, Marquette, Purdue, Wake Forest and Butler.

Bill Self and KU were not listed in the current poll, but the story said a new listing of coaches’ APR rankings will be made public next year. However, the USA Today article said, Self’s players “have fared well in the classroom, giving Self an above-average 981 APR on a scale of 1,000 — information the NCAA will make public next year.”

Again, it is disappointing to have a major college president give support to the idea that a coach’s market value is based more on the wins and losses in his career than on how his players performed in the classroom.

This raises the question of what these presidents honestly think is the primary mission of a major university: winning teams or winning students? Most will say they want both, and this is indeed the case at some schools, but not enough.