Quick Pitch with Eddie Comeaux

comeauxScore: NCAA’s APR Impact on College Baseball Programs

During the month of June, the college baseball community adjusts their attention to the regionals, Major League Baseball’s (MLB) amateur draft, and the College World Series. While some baseball coaches are primarily concerned with preparing for post-season play, others are just as interested in keeping score to track the academic performance of their scholarship student-athletes. The latter aim of these coaches is particularly important because the NCAA has imposed stricter academic standards that can penalize teams when student-athletes underperform in the classroom and/or leave school without earning a degree.

How can this happen?

In 2004, former NCAA president Myles Brand championed the Academic Progress Rate (APR) initiative. The APR is an academic measurement tool that essentially provides an instant snapshot of the academic culture, particularly the eligibility, retention, and graduation of student-athletes in team sports. Under the APR metric, each scholarship student-athlete earns a maximum of two points, one for maintaining academic eligibility and another for staying in school. The team members’ scores are tallied and divided by the total number of possible points, and then multiplied by 1,000, yielding a maximum score of 1,000. Teams that fall short of the 930 APR threshold are subjected to contemporaneous penalties such as scholarship reductions, a ban from post-season competition, and-inadvertently-public humiliation.

What about student-athletes who leave early for the MLB amateur draft?

According to the NCAA Division I Committee on Academic Performance, an adjustment can be awarded to a team’s APR score when it is determined that “mitigating circumstances surrounding the individual student-athlete are beyond the control of the student-athlete and/or the team/institution.” For example, if an individual student-athlete finished his last semester/quarter in good academic standing and decided to enter the June MLB amateur draft, the team probably would be granted the APR adjustment option.

Still, some would dispute the idea that head coaches (and an athletic program) should be held accountable for student-athletes who decide to skip classes or drop out of school. Critics of the APR have echoed that coaches cannot control certain academic choices made by student-athletes; and coaches have no recourse to influence a student-athlete, who is a projected high MLB draft pick, to remain in good academic standing in their last semester/quarter.

This might be true.

Nonetheless, the APR attempts to put the onus on coaches to be more selective in the types of student-athletes they recruit and to demonstrate stronger academic leadership and more accountability for their academic outcomes. After all, researchers found that coaches’ successes are rarely measured by the academic performance of their student-athletes, nor are coaches ever dismissed for low graduation rates. This is where we should draw the proverbial line. The APR to some degree pressures coaches to have a vested interest in the academic obligations and goals of their student-athletes to avoid costly penalties.

“The onus is on institutions to have an academic plan in place,” said Mark Martinez, an assistant baseball coach at San Diego State University.

I am compelled to believe that the APR is a step in the right direction. According to NCAA figures through 2009-10, baseball’s average four-year APR is 959, up five points over last year. This is quite an impressive accomplishment.

The NCAA Division I Committee on Academic Performance, though, should continue to refine and improve the APR matrix. The APR can benefit from a supplemental component that includes more robust indicators of academic success. The APR in its current form uses graduation rates as an indicator of academic success, but the measure is rather ambiguous, and, in turn, leaves much to be considered about the quality of educational experiences for student-athletes.

The NCAA and member institutions might consider developing and offering incentives to student-athletes that are linked to their academic performance. Incentives and rewards can serve as an effective way to motivate behavior change among student-athletes. For example, the Scholar-Baller® (SB) paradigm provides reward incentives to student-athletes who earn at least a 3.0 semester or cumulative GPA. According to co-founder Dr. Keith Harrison, “SB incentives differ from other approaches because the recognition is integrated into the identities, fashion, lingo and daily lives of the student-athletes it touches.”

Indeed, this is an innovative approach that stretches outside of the lines.

Meanwhile, if you notice a coach reach for his all-purpose calculator during a June baseball game in Omaha, he might be preparing to tally the pitch count or perhaps figure out his latest APR score.

Dr. Eddie Comeaux received his B.A. at Cal-Berkeley, where he also played baseball. In 1994, he was drafted by the Texas Rangers and spent four years playing professional baseball.

Dr. Comeaux is currently an Assistant Professor in the College of Education and Co-Director of the Graduate Sport Leadership Program at the University of Kentucky, where his research interests include student engagement, intercollegiate athletics, and diversity competence and leadership in defined social systems.