When Shabazz Napier decided to use the platform of a national championship celebration to criticize the NCAA for UConn’s postseason ban in 2012–13, responses fell into one of two camps. Some thought it was momentous, exposing at once how NCAA penalties, especially Academic Progress Rate penalties, were at the same time capricious and ineffective. Others, like Dan Wolken, thought Napier’s aim was at the wrong target:
Moreover, it’s almost impossible for a program with UConn’s resources to fail so miserably in the APR that it would miss the postseason. Before it even gets to that point, the NCAA warns you. Then they take away scholarships. And only then, if the APR problems haven’t been fixed, does a postseason ban come into play.
The idea that UConn was warned has become a central counterargument to Napier’s criticism. And it’s true that UConn had a history of poor APR scores going into the 2012–13 academic year. After a 930 multiyear rate in 2008–09, the score dipped to 893 in 2009–10 and 889 in 2010–11, the year that got UConn banned from the 2012–13 postseason.
But that postseason ban was different from previous bans. In August 2011, after the 2010–11 academic year was in the books and right before UConn would have started submitting the data for that year, the NCAA changed the rules.
UConn’s 893 APR score for the 2009–10 academic year resulted in two penalties in 2011–12: a scholarship reduction of two for contemporaneous penalties and Occasion-One historical penalties which is public notice (a.k.a. a warning). Under the old system, the 889 score in 2010–11 would have resulted in Occasion-Two historical penalties. Those include the Occasion-One penalty of public notice plus a scholarship reduction and practice time reduction. It was not until Occasion-Three penalties that a team was banned from the postseason. That may have happened this season, for UConn’s 2011–12 score of 897, except the NCAA did not impose any APR penalties due to the team’s “demonstrated academic improvement”, which might have been the case under the old system as well.
But when the NCAA changed the rules in August 2011, UConn suddenly needed either a 900 multiyear rate for 2010–11 or a 930 over the preceding two years to avoid a postseason ban in 2012–13. We’ve already covered UConn’s 897 multiyear rate. The exact two-year rate is unknown, but the average of UConn’s 2009–10 and 2010–11 single year rates 902. The actual two-year rate was probably lower than that, because UConn’s cohort in 2010–11 when it posted a 978 was likely smaller than 2009–10’s (single year rate: 826) because of the scholarship penalty imposed that year.
So what does that all mean for the claim that UConn has no one to blame but itself for the 2012–13 postseason ban, especially because they had ample warning?
On the one hand, UConn was already in significant trouble with the APR in August 2011 when the NCAA changed the benchmarks and penalties. The men’s basketball team was headed for more scholarship restrictions and a practice reduction. Given UConn’s resources and previous poor APR scores, the school can be faulted for putting themselves at risk.
But on the other hand, on August 9th, 2011, UConn was not facing the possibility of a postseason ban in 2012–13. Two days later, the penalty was all but assured. During that time nothing changed about the grades UConn men’s basketball players had earned or whether they were retained, only the benchmark UConn was supposed to meet. That lead to UConn’s multiple appeals, which centered around using scores from the 2011–12 academic year to avoid a penalty the school argued was imposed retroactively.
Like most things, the real story is somewhere in the middle. The NCAA may have changed the rules, but it took multiple years of poor scores to put UConn in a position where that mattered.
In the future, the safety net is gone. A team with solid APR scores will take more than one down year to face a postseason ban. But starting in 2014–15 with the 2012–13 APR, there are no more warnings, filters, or second chances. One year a team’s APR will be sufficient and the next the team will be banned from the postseason. The big question is whether something that sudden will ever happen to a program as big as UConn men’s basketball again.