Why the NCAA’s new academic rules could actually make matters much worse

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

It seems obvious: Increase the minimum academic standards to which collegiate student athletes are held, and they will be forced to improve. That's essentially the equation that the NCAA has decided is within reach by introducing new "APR" standards, intended to improve the baseline of academic progress in programs across the country and help breed better student athletes in the process.

UConn coach Jim Calhoun's squad is currently suspended from all 2013 postseason tournaments — Getty Images
UConn coach Jim Calhoun's squad is currently suspended from all 2013 postseason tournaments — Getty Images

Unfortunately, as Sports Illustrated columnist Rob Dauster points out in an excellent piece, the eventual results may be precisely what the NCAA most desperately needs to avoid: More programs trying to play by the rules forced to miss the tournament while those who willingly turn to academic fraud escape the harsh sanctions that await them.

The logic behind that twist to the NCAA's tale is simple: If a program like UConn is going to be forced to miss all postseason play in 2013 for lack of academic progress, why should a program with even less accountability or academic structure even try to keep up with the Joneses? Instead, they are much more likely to turn to means through which they know they'll remain in competition; they'll just cheat.

As Dauster explains, those academic loopholes are made more malleable still by the APR itself, which is a flawed tool at best. Easily manipulated by coaches who have any level of buy in from their athletes, the APR in any given season might very well show that a school like Kentucky, which features as many as four or five one-year players, could actually rank higher than Connecticut, where multiple players might drop out for fear of failing classes or while they focus on their game, without game-time repercussions for not finishing classes.

Making matters worse is the recent trend in structuring coach's contracts around APR success, giving those coaches even more reason to find a way to cheat if their players aren't getting the job done on their own.

There are plenty more in-depth reasons why the NCAA's newest academic reforms are unlikely to bring the results that they are intended to achieve, as more fully fleshed out by Dauster.

The real question may be whether the NCAA can find a way to adapt on the fly if their well-intentioned reforms are proven to be as flawed as their appear they may be before they are even in place.

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