Tennessee’s football program is teetering on the brink of serious penalties after another sub-par round of academic numbers that was released on Tuesday.
Tennessee’s football team scored a 924 in the NCAA’s newest batch of academic progress rate (APR) data. The multi-year rates cover a four-year period from the 2008-2009 through 2011-2012 academic years.
The current NCAA threshold for participating in the postseason is 900. That standard will rise to 930 for 2014, potentially putting the Vols in peril but also allowing them time to catch up. UT officials expressed confidence that an improved academic focus would help boost UT’s score.
A national database of APR scores is available on the NCAA website here: http://web1.ncaa.org/maps/aprRelease.jsp
Football is UT’s only sport below the future standard of 930.
The NCAA describes the APR as a “ team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete, each term.” Essentially, teams gain points for retaining players and maintaining their academic eligibility. They lose points for players who struggle in the classroom or leave school in poor academic standing.
The APR program has been in effect for eight years, but the NCAA recently stiffened penalties, including an effective ban on postseason competition for programs that don’t make the standard. Most notably, Connecticut’s storied men’s basketball program was barred from postseason play in 2013.
The most recently released numbers reflect a four-year period before the hiring of new coach Butch Jones. Most of the time frame was also before athletic director Dave Hart started his tenure.
"While our current football APR score is well below our expectations, we believe that the team's academic performance during the 2012-13 school year and the improvements made in our structure over the last year have us strongly positioned for the future," Hart said in a release.
Jones was briefed on the bleak APR outlook before he was hired, so the numbers are unlikely to be a shock for him. UT officials can also point to improved academic performance in the football program, including a 2.8 team GPA in the most recent semester. The team also showed improvement in Derek Dooley’s final year at the helm after a dismal fall semester GPA of 2.08 in 2011.
"I believe that once we identified the APR issues with our football program, we have done everything necessary to address them," UT Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek said. "I am proud of the performance in the classroom by our student-athletes over the last two semesters, and I have great confidence that we have put past issues behind us and will only continue to improve."
Jones has inherited troubled academic situations in his last two stops. At Central Michigan, the APR grew from 920 in his first year to 945 in his final season. At Cincinnati, the football program improved from 907 to 957.
“Academics are at the forefront of the priorities within our football team, and we are excited with the results in the classroom from the spring semester,” Jones said in the release. “We are moving forward with a great plan and structure that alleviates past academic concerns, and we are confident of avoiding any APR issues. Everything is in place to provide the best possible environment for achieving academic success for our student-athletes as we continue to move forward.”
UT registered a program-high multi-year APR of 949 in the 2007-2008 academic year, but has slipped in each year since. Those scores are no longer included in the four-year rolling average, which likely contributed to this year’s low score.
If Tennessee fails to meet the 930 four-year average in order to qualify for participation in a 2014 bowl, the Vols could still earn their way if their two-year average is 940.
In addition to being barred from postseason play, teams who don’t meet the standard could face a loss of practice time from 20 to 16 hours per week, with the additional four hours being devoted to academics.
Tennessee, and other schools in its situation, could use several strategies to improve APR numbers, including earning points by convincing former players to return to school and graduate.
The NCAA also considers waivers and appeals for some of the toughest sanctions, although Connecticut’s attempt to elude the postseason ban was unsuccessful.
Tennessee has sought to revamp its academic support system under Hart. He recently hired Joe Scogin from Missouri to serve as senior associate AD and director of the Thornton Center, UT’s student-athlete academic center.
Tennessee athletic programs have faced minor penalties in the past. The baseball team’s scholarship allotment was reduced by 1.17 when multi-year rates were released after the 2006-2007 academic year. The men’s basketball team was docked one scholarship after the 2007-2008 season.
Tennessee APR rate by academic year
(First number is multi-year average, second number is one-year rate)
2004-2005: 926, not released
2005-2006: 938, not released
2006-2007: 948, not released
2007-2008: 949, not released
2008-2009: 944, 928
2009-2010: 937, 921
2010-2011: 931, 934
2011-2012: 924, 909
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him on Twitter.