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Mid-Major Monday: Un-Natural Selection

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The results of the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate were released back in May, and some people wrote some things about the typical hamfistedness of the Association and probably forgot about it. The USA Today goes deeper today with not one! but two! stories on the APR and its sketchy application (why are there two largely redundant entries on the exact same subject? More clicks to show Web advertisers, I guess. But that's beside the point). The headline on the first says, "Mid-level schools fall short on academic rates." Which is at least partly true: of the 200 teams at 123 D-I schools hit with scholarship losses from the latest round of APR results, 90 percent were from outside of BCS conferences. USAT said two schools, UAB and repeat offender San Jose State, lost more than 23 scholarships across the board, more than all 65 "power conference" teams combined. All of this was widely reported back in May.

But as it makes clear in a related article on the reaction of the ever-vigilant Knight Commission –– and what is new here from the initial hand wringing last month –– the failure of "mid-level" teams is only half the story:

When the NCAA does hand down scholarship cuts and other penalties, there is further concern with where they fall. Low-APR schools in the six richest and biggest-name conferences — the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific-10 and Southeastern — were only half as likely to be punished in the past year as those in the other five leagues in the major-football-playing Bowl Subdivision (formerly called Division I-A).
Across Division I, fewer than one in three teams with subpar APRs — 218 of 725 — were sanctioned in the past year. The percentage fell to 25% in the six power conferences and climbed to 49% in the other five Bowl Subdivision leagues (Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, Sun Belt and Western Athletic).
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[Emphasis mine]

Back in the larger story, we get a few specifics:

The Pac-10, for example, saw only three of 14 subpar teams sanctioned (21%) while the neighboring Western Athletic saw 23 of 34 (68%) and the Mountain West 10 of 15 (67%).

The SEC saw only five of 20 low-APR teams sanctioned (25%). The Sun Belt, with roughly the same geographic footprint, saw 16 of 46 (35%).
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And in a sidebar to the same article:

Both opponents in last season's Motor City Bowl, Purdue and Central Michigan, posted football APRs beneath the NCAA's 925 cutoff. Purdue had a 920 but wasn't penalized. Central had a 922 and lost two scholarships.

Orange Bowl winner Kansas, with a football APR of 919, was the only Bowl Championship Series participant penalized (the Jayhawks lost two scholarships). And with Washington State, it was one of only two football teams from...the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC to be sanctioned.

Auburn had four teams (baseball, men's basketball and men's outdoor and indoor track) fall beneath 925, all without penalty. Down the road, all of the six low-APR teams at Alabama-Birmingham (football and men's basketball, tennis, golf and soccer and women's basketball) were sanctioned.
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It's not looking good for the class warriors, Dick.
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As long as we're talking about superconferences and the acceleration of the decades-long evolution toward a more NFL-like, television-friendly league of big-spending, heavy-hitting "haves," this deserves a lot of attention, especially when it comes to the question of natural selection for big boy membership: if we're looking at the beginning of a mass extinction of the weakest programs, does it really qualify as survival of the fittest if there's a guiding hand?

I don't have particularly strong feelings about demoting, expelling, suspending or otherwise cutting the chafe in Division I, except where it concerns Florida International, the only school which is blatantly falling short of the stated requirements for membership on and off the field. I agree with Brian Cook when he says "I-A is not a right," and I'm not the least bit concerned with the status of my own "mid-level" alma mater, whose APR in football is among the safest in the country (Southern Miss' number, 958, put the team in the 70th-80th percentile and equalled the average rate of teams from private schools nationally. Go Criminal Justice and Sports and Athletic Administration!). But I'm also with Kyle King in his general opposition to the official separation of a cabal of elite, money-driven programs that, as a group, looks more like the pros than what we know of the traditional conference alignment in the college game, even if the key word in that sentence at this point is "official." Even Brian, who defends the notion of the APR and does not seem to mind a chopping block effect on FIUs and EMUs and UABs and the like, is clear about the necessity of fairness in the process, or, as George Will would say, equality of opportunity:

This waiver business is arbitrary and ripe for exploitation. Bruce Feldman points out this article in the State that breaks down the 492 programs that fell short of the APR minimum but did not get dinged. 315 programs avoided penalties because they have no money or did better than their student body at large; 253 of these avoided penalties because no one left ineligible. But then there are the 66 programs, including those from Ohio State, Purdue, Indiana, South Florida, Oregon, and South Carolina, that got waivers because they promised to do better, ie: spend more. This can't be done by smaller programs and we should have little sympathy for the pleas of big schools that fall below the minimum.
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Indeed (stroking bearded chin). Unless there was some kind of interest in giving the upper class a little rope while the little guy's left hanging for the same crime. But that's probably paranoid.