The NCAA released annual Academic Progress Rate (APR) numbers this week, and the Mid-American Conference continues to improve it's standing in revenue sports.
Let's start with some background information. The APR is a number that measures a individual school's ability to retain scholarship athletes and keep them academically eligible. Each player receives one point for maintaining eligibility and another for staying in school from term-to-term.
To calculate a team's APR, points are added up and divided by the number of possible points, then that number is multiplied by 1,000. If a basketball team uses all 13 scholarships and all 13 players return and remain eligible, their APR score is 1,000. If that same team had two players who lost eligibility for a year but remained on the team, their APR would be 923. APR scores that are released annually are four-year rolling averages. This year's scores are averages for the years 2009-10 to 2012-13.
The NCAA has adopted new, more strict minimum standards for APR. To avoid penalty, an athletic team must maintain a score of no less than 930. If a team falls below that benchmark, it may lose scholarships and/or be banned from postseason play. This year, only one MAC athletic program failed to reach this standard.
We examined the APR scores for MAC teams in several sports -- football, baseball, hockey, and both men's and women's basketball. In baseball and both sides of basketball, the MAC collectively exceeded the national average APR for those sports. They did not reach the average in football or hockey, but the difference was minimal.
Let's start with football...
One of the first things you'll notice is that there is a clear dividing line at 950. The top five schools, in no specific order, are the same in each of the last three seasons, and all of them earned at least 950 in all three years. In particular, Northern Illinois had some exceptional performances, including a 987 three years ago. That has declined to a 968 in the most recent report, but Toledo has taken the Huskies' place.
There are also some teams who were perilously close to getting a postseason ban. Massachusetts, Akron and Buffalo all registered a 932 in this year's APR report, while Eastern and Central Michigan escaped with a pair of 940s. All five will have to be careful, as with a little bad luck, any of them could end up missing a bowl game in the near future.
The good news is that the bottom teams are improving, if only slightly, and the conference as a whole improved by nearly three points in this year's release. After declining from an average of 947.38 to 946.62 from 2010-11 to 2011-12, the MAC's football APR rose to 949.38 for 2012-13. The average NCAA football team scored a 951 APR, so the MAC is just below average, but it wouldn't take much to flip that fact next year.
Of course, many may wonder how the MAC compares to the BCS conferences. Unfortunately, the comparison doesn't go well for the mid-major conference here. Led by Northwestern's amazing 991 APR, the Big Ten average APR is 970, a number surpassed by only one individual MAC school. The SEC's figure is even better.
How about men's basketball?
|Men's Basketball||2012-13||APR||2011-12||APR||2010-11||APR||3-YR AVG||APR|
This is an area where the MAC has made really significant strides in academic progress. For the 2010-11 academic year, the MAC had several truly awful APR numbers, starting with an abominable 869 from Toledo. Three others were below the new 930 benchmark. Three other teams had APRs of 975 of better, but those at the bottom dragged down the entire league average.
The numbers improved one year later, but Toledo was still only at 902. However, all that changed with the newest figures. Toledo completed a journey from 869 to 944, while Western Michigan came as close to perfect (995) as you can get whether actually getting there. The entire league was above 940, and the league average (958) is above the NCAA average of 957.
Overall, ten of the MAC's 12 men's basketball teams have improved their APR from 2010-11 to 2012-13, and the two who haven't (Miami, Kent State) are both still in the top three of the league. This should absolutely be a point of pride for the conference.
The situation is very much the same for women's basketball. Over the last three years, ten of the MAC's 12 teams have improved their APR, and another (Buffalo) maintained theirs. Only Toledo's declined, and you probably won't hear anyone complain about an APR drop from 990 to 988, especially when that 988 still leads the MAC.
The biggest difference here is that, of the five sports we examined, only women's basketball saw a decline in average APR among MAC teams from 2011-12 to 2012-13.
|Women's Basketball||2012-13||APR||2011-12||APR||2010-11||APR||3-YR AVG||APR|
The great thing for the MAC here is that no team is even remotely close to the 930 barrier. The lowest APR, which belongs to Ball State, is currently 963. Five teams are above 980, and the MAC's conference average (976) is three points better than the NCAA average.
The APR numbers for the MAC's baseball and hockey programs are also in very good territory.
All three MAC teams that currently play hockey (Bowling Green, Miami, Western Michigan) have better team APR scores for 2012-13 than they did for 2010-11. This week's release shows that BGSU's 987 is tops, but both Miami (982) and Western Michigan (973) are very close. However, the average of those three numbers (980.67) is actually lower than the NCAA average of 984.
The average APR for MAC baseball teams is 974, and of the five sports we've discussed, baseball compares most favorably to the national average. Nationally, NCAA baseball teams post a typical APR of 967. The average for MAC baseball teams has remained relatively stable for the last few years, ranging from 972.25 in 2010-11 to 971 in 2011-12 and now 974.
The biggest assist goes to Kent State, whose baseball program has posted a perfect APR of 1,000 for each of the last three seasons. This year, Eastern Michigan vaulted to second place with a score of 993, which is an improvement of 28 points over their score from the previous year. Bowling Green and Miami both also had baseball APRs of better than 980, and even the lowest (Ohio, 955) was still above 950.
The biggest takeaway out of all of these numbers? Outside of a few football teams, no MAC revenue-generating sports program is in immediate danger of falling below the 930 threshold. This is a very positive development for the league and her member schools. In fact, Buffalo's wrestling team is the only program in the entire conference to be hit with a postseason ban due to a poor APR score.
As fans, we often forget the "student" part in student-athlete, but this year's APR report clearly shows that MAC schools and their student-athletes are getting the student part of that equation right far more often than not.