Formed last May, the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Academic Enhancement Group has until the end of the year to develop new ideas for improving graduation rates in the sport. Modeled after a similar body established for baseball two years ago, the group was directed to analyze academic performance trends, identify factors that negatively impact academic achievement, and suggest rules changes to boost players' graduation rates.
"I've never met a coach who doesn't want all of his guys to graduate," says Herb Sendek, Head Men's Basketball Coach at Arizona State University and a member of the group. "And I think most coaches promote academics in a very positive way. But we have to look deeper if we're going to find the roots of the problem.
"It's far more complicated than coaches caring about academics or providing motivation or discipline," he continues. "There are some real systemic issues today that make graduating players extremely challenging. This committee intends to look at those challenges and determine how we might effect change so that we graduate more players."
Composed of coaches, athletic administrators, school presidents, and faculty athletics representatives, the 28-member group reviewed detailed reports of academic performance by Division I men's basketball players at its first meeting. It also established subcommittees to look at five main areas of concern: the impact of transfers on retention and eligibility, the impact of players focusing on potential professional careers during their final spring semester, issues regarding academic support services and academic preparedness before enrollment, scheduling of both games and practices, and coaches' access to players outside the playing season.
"We felt it would be in our best interest to categorize many of the discussion items into at least five core areas," says group Chair Dan Guerrero, Athletic Director at UCLA. "As we move along there could be other areas that arise, but those five will be the initial focus."
Although academic performance is hardly a new issue in men's basketball, Sendek says this group is different from previous ones. "This is the first time a group specific to men's basketball has been formed relating solely to academics," he says. "There are some unique features that have to be considered under a microscope as they relate to our sport.
"Take coaching turnover," he continues. "Few sports, if any, have the high turnover we do. And a direct correlation between coaching turnover and lower APRs and graduation rates has been shown. There are a litany of similar issues for us to look at as well."
While the group does not have any rule-making authority, it is expected to make recommendations to the Division I Board of Directors by the end of 2008. "Hopefully, our recommendations will result in some kind of substantial change if the board believes that what we come up with has merit," Guerrero says.
Although the group is limited to representatives of Division I institutions, its effects could be wide-ranging. "Coaches at other levels need to know that this group is serious," Guerrero says. "The intent is to improve academic performance across the board at the NCAA level, and that will certainly spill over into the high school and junior college levels. Every effort is being made to ensure that men's basketball thrives, but does so with measurable accountability. And once high schools and junior colleges see that there are expectations and accountability in place, they will adapt and adjust."
The baseball academic group's recommendations developed into a package of legislation that has been controversial. The group was formed after the Board of Directors considered lopping off 10 percent of baseball's playing and practice schedule to combat low APR scores.
The new rules in baseball require that players be academically eligible during the fall semester to play in the spring and remove the one-time transfer exemption. They also institute a minimum scholarship level for the first time and restrict rosters to 35 players. The complete package of new baseball rules will take effect in August.