NCAA 2013 Data Released!

It’s been a hot summer so far in the Big Easy. The lazy whirl of the ceiling fans above the grand porch at The Columns Hotel is no longer enough to keep the cubes of ice in my daily cocktail from melting far too fast. The air rushing through the open windows of the streetcar is now a reasonable facsimile of an open oven on Thanksgiving Day. My seersucker suits are now unable to keep pace with the sweat… what? It’s not summer for another eight days? Oh, you’re kidding me.

And let’s face it. It’s been a long, hot summer in ND-land, too. So, the release today by the NCAA of the latest academic data for the nation’s Division I and Division II schools can be considered a refreshing tonic as we build toward actual football news. Over the coming weeks, I’m going to do my best to explain it, and what it means to the Irish going forward.

Today, Notre Dame announced that twelve sports programs earned perfect NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores. Eight men’s teams, including basketball and baseball, and four women’s teams, including swimming and diving, hit the coveted 1000 mark. This is the second year in a row in which Notre Dame has lead all FBS schools in APR, a measurement of academic performance over a semester. According to the NCAA, “[e]ach student-athlete earns one point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible. A team’s total points are divided by points possible and multiplied by 1,000 to produce the team’s APR. A 930 APR predicts about a 50 percent graduation rate. Teams falling below an APR of 930 face sanctions ranging from scholarship reductions to more severe penalties.”

Now, APR can rightly be viewed as a flawed metric, as it does not account for the most fundamental goal of a college student: graduation. Because it awards points for players in good academic standing, a school is not penalized if an athlete leaves for the NFL, or home, as long as they leave in good standing. The NCAA’s other academic success metric, Graduation Success Rate (GSR), comes in for similar criticism, in that some voodoo mathematics make their way into things by removing transferring students from one school’s cohort and blah blah blah. Even the NCAA admits that the Federal Graduation Rate (FGR), a six-year metric tracked by the Department of Education, “[. . .] is still the only rate that allows a direct comparison between student-athletes and the general student body.”

But since we’re not shying away from the perfect APR scores, I wanted to look at where the football program stands relative to the other programs we face. Today’s figures, as released by the NCAA, show that ND football has a multi-year APR of 973 and 979 for year 2011-2012. This gives us the second highest APR on our 2013 schedule. Stanford, 978/977, comes in first. BYU finishes last, in at 931/943. The national average for D1 football programs is 949 and teams whose last-two year average falls below 930 are subject to penalties ranging from practice time replaced by study time all the way to coaching suspensions. Given Notre Dame’s rise in APR over last year, 977, Brian Kelly’s not going anywhere, undefeated regular season notwithstanding.

Of the rest of the 2013 schedule, Temple (968/961), USAF (974/968), and Navy (968/961) round out the top group. Pitt (962/966), Oklahoma (960/934), and MSU (955/982) make up the meaty-middle, while Purdue (953/zzzzzzzzzz), Michigan (sucks!/981), U$C (945/944), and Arizona State (937/935) finish, as they so often do, far behind. Credit where it’s due, though, both Michigan and Michigan State posted very solid 2011-2012 APRs.

Last year, Notre Dame’s APR scores were 970/977, placing the Irish fifth out of their schedule, tied with Oklahoma (970/985). Notable performers included Miami (980/982), Stanford (977/985), Boston College (977/980), and Wake Forest (973/969). Alabama, FWIW, put up a very respectable 970/977.

But the huge swings you see from year to year give the lie to putting too much stock in any one set of numbers. Note Oklahoma’s 2012 970/985 in comparison to 2013′s 960/934. The Irish, along with a select group of schools consistently putting up high marks, are maintaining excellence year-to-year. More importantly, and as I’ll explain in my next post, the players in good standing are actually graduating. And that, my Bayou Militiamen and -women, is keeping the “student” in “student-athlete.” Which is pretty cool after all.