Exploring the APR; Which Pac-12 Universities Are Taking Care of Their Student-Athletes?


This is Part III of the 3-part series exploring the academic requirements of student-athletes at Pac-12 universities. In Part I, we explored the use of “special admits” to allow athletes who would not meet normal academic requirements of Pac-12 universities to get accepted. In Part II, we explored the academic acceptance requirements of student-athletes across the Pac-12 members schools. In Part III, we’ll explore what happens to student-athletes once they arrive on campus and how likely they are to graduate college with a degree in hand when their eligibility is up.

The academic success of student-athletes is the official goal of the NCAA. While most of us believe that the NCAA’s real goals are to rake in billions of dollars to make millionaires of coaches, athletic directors, and university presidents, that wasn’t the original purpose of its creation. But, with student-athletes falling through the creases, earning their university millions of dollars, but they themselves leaving college without a degree or any real marketable academic skills, the NCAA realized in the last decade that they needed to up the ante on participating universities to hold their student-athletes accountable in the classroom and to fulfill the real mission of a university and that is to provide their student-athletes with an education that will allow them to be successful in the world when their athletic career is over.

Back in 2004, the NCAA came up with the Academic Progress Rate (APR) which monitors the term-by-term eligibility rate of each student-athlete in a sport, as well as, the overall graduation rate. According to Wikipedia (yes, I know not always the most reliable source), here is how it is calculated:

"“Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one retention point for staying in school and one eligibility point for being academically eligible. A team’s total points are divided by the points possible and then multiplied by one thousand to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate score. Example: A Division I Football Bowl Subdivision team awards the full complement of 85 grants-in-aid. If 80 student-athletes remain in school and academically eligible, three remain in school but are academically ineligible and two drop out academically ineligible, the team earns 163 of 170 possible points for that term. Divide 163 by 170 and multiply by 1,000 to determine that the team’s Academic Progress Rate for that term is 959. The NCAA calculates the rate as a rolling, four-year figure that takes into account all the points student-athletes could earn for remaining in school and academically eligible during that period.”"

I decided to take a loot at the official NCAA APR scores for every Pac-12 university for football and men’s basketball to see how well the universities are maintaining the academic eligibility and graduation rates of their student-athletes once they arrive on campus. Perhaps it is OK to allow exceptions for athletes who may not meet the normal academic requirements of the university if they provide them with the type of academic support structure to make sure they are successful in the classroom. On the other hand, are there universities who take advantage of the athletic talents these players bring to the university (and the athletic department coffers), but then are left behind to fail in the classroom?

Let’s take a look. The data below is sorted by the average APR score for the university from 2004 – 2010. The average SAT score of the athletes in that sport is given in the 3rd column and the overall male SAT scores of the general student population is given the last column. The average male SAT scores are compiled by the NCAA on a rotating basis and thus may or may not overlap with the APR scores. But, they are given to give an overview of the differences between the student-athletes accepted compared to their general classmates. The larger the difference, the more work the university must do to make sure those student-athletes are being successful in the classroom.

SchoolAverage Football APRAverage SAT ScoreOverall Male SAT
Stanford University983.7N/A1435
UC Berkeley960.89671329
University of Utah951.0N/A1128
University of Washington945.59491206
Arizona State University937.89371111
University of Colorado931.59661152
Oregon State University930.89971110
University of Oregon925.29531121
Washington State University923.79161058
University of Arizona920.09241145

Looking at the football scores, it is obvious that Stanford’s football team is not only being successful on the field, but also in the classroom. While we do not know what the SAT scores are for those football players, since Stanford claims they do not use Special Admit practices, the assumption is that these athletes would have been successful even without major intervention by the university. The one that really shows up is #2 California. While one report stated that 94% of its football players entered using Special Admit practices and their overall use of the practice across all sports is 44%, they are 2nd in the conference in APR. That means they are making sure their players are staying engaged in the classroom in what is undoubtedly the 2nd best academic university in the conference.

Looking across the table, it is also obvious that the universities with the highest academic requirements (implied by highest SAT scores for the general public) are also at the top of the conference when it comes to APR. The weakest universities in the conference such as Oregon, Washington State, and Oregon State all rank near the bottom in terms of both APR and SAT. That means they are not providing their student athletes the support they need, even though the overall level of student in the university as a whole is not as high. Oregon stands out to me since Phil Knight has invested so much in their athletic facilities and making the Ducks a national powerhouse on the grid iron, yet they are not being nearly as successful in the classroom. However, the most egregious situation on this table is down in Tuscon with the University of Arizona. They are a respectable university who are letting their football players fall through the cracks.

SchoolAverage Basketball APRAverage SAT ScoreOverall Male SAT
University of Oregon964.7N/A1121
Stanford University961.3N/A1435
University of Washington947.09511206
UC Berkeley942.89481329
University of Utah942.7N/A1128
University of Arizona940.010161145
Oregon State University938.310091110
Arizona State University930.69061111
Washington State University924.310131058
University of Colorado892.29431152

Looking at the basketball statistics, things have switched around a bit. But, these can be a bit deceiving because the sample size is so much smaller. While football has 85 scholarship players, basketball only has 13. In addition, the percentage of players leaving early to the NBA is definitely much higher than it is in football. So, while football has a sample size of 400-500 players for the APR scores, basketball is more like 60-80.

That being said, Stanford, Washington, and California remain near the top of the conference in maintaining academic eligibility and graduation rates for their men’s basketball players. Oregon clearly stands out here, although since we do not have the SAT figures for their players, it is difficult to determine whether that was due to the inherent academic excellence of the players recruited by Ernie Kent or special emphasis by the athletic department to help those players. Arizona, Oregon State, and Washington State remain in the bottom half of the conference, joined by Colorado and USC.

What can we read from this? While I have not run the statistical analysis to determine whether the correlations match with a 95% confidence interval, eye-balling it, I’d say that the universities with the highest academic requirements for the general student population also have the higher APR scores. It may be that these universities realize that it will be difficult for student-athletes who come in with academic skills well below the general population to be successful in the classroom without strong academic support networks. This is particular true, even with athletes who did well in school, when you include the incredible hours they put into practice, the weight room and film room, plus road trips. These universities are providing the tutors and study-halls and coordination with professors to help these athletes do well in both settings.

So, for fans of Stanford, Washington, and Cal, even more reason to be proud of the academics of their institutions. As for Washington State and Oregon State? Well, there is work to be done in all areas; on the field, on the court, in the classroom for the general population, and in the academic support of their athletes who can’t seem to win many games anyways…