5 reasons the UT football APR situation is not a big deal

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Updated: June 12, 2013

UT Football APR

The hits, they just keep coming. As if the Jenny Wright debacle wasn’t enough of a mule kick to the stomach of the relationship between student athletes and academics at the University of Tennessee, along comes APR gate.

And on the surface, the UT football APR situation certainly appears to be a dire one.

But first, what is APR? It stands for Academic Progress Rate and it’s the NCAA’s measure of a school’s academic standing as it pertains to its student athletes. Athletes who leave early and are not in good academic standing hurt a school’s APR, while athletes who stay the course and maintain their academic eligibility help a school’s APR.

So why does UT football’s APR situation seem so damning? Because the team scored a 924 on the most recent batch. And while that’s above the 900 required by the NCAA to qualify for post season play after the 2013 season,  it’s well short of the 930 they’d need to qualify for a bowl game in the 2014 season.

Three points of clarification:

First, each APR is an average of the previous four years’ APR, and it’s also a year behind, if you will. Which means the Vols’ APR of 924 represents:

Fulmer’s last semester on the job (fall of 2008)
Kiffin’s only two semesters on the job (spring and fall of 2009), and
Dooley’s first two-plus years on the job (spring of 2010 and the full academic years of 2010-2011 and 2011-2012).

And the scores since 2008 are as follows (the first number being the four-year APR average, the next being the APR for that specific academic year):

2008-2009: 944, 928
2009-2010: 937, 921
2010-2011: 931, 934
2011-2012: 924, 909

Second, if a team doesn’t have the 930 required to qualify for postseason play in 2014, it can still qualify if its two-year average is 940.

Which means UT football needs to score either a 971 to get its two-year average to 940 or a 956 to get its four-year average to 930. (I was under the impression there’d be no math?) Which obviously means 956 is the magic number for the 2012-2013 academic year – the one which has just wrapped up. Anything less, and the Vols won’t qualify for postseason play in the 2014 season, the first of the highly touted 2014 Legacy Class.

And third, the NCAA means business when it comes to APR minimums. If you don’t believe me, just ask UConn. Their men’s hoops team missed out on the 2013 postseason despite their 20-10 record.

Again, on the surface, this seems to be damning information, indeed. Since the APR system began some eight years ago, the Vols have never scored higher than 949. Which is why people like Clay Travis are going all gloom and doom.

But Clay’s wrong on this one. I don’t think there’s a “decent” chance the 2014 Vols will be ineligible to go bowling. At least not from an APR standpoint. Is there a chance? Sure. But it’s a very slim one.

You see, the UT football APR situation just isn’t that big of a deal, and here are five reasons why:

1) Changes in infrastructure

Which is exactly what Jimmy Cheek was alluding to with the following quote cited in Evan Woodberry in the fantastic piece he wrote for GoVolsXtra yesterday – changes UT has made in its infrastructure.

I believe that once we identified the APR issues with our football program, we have done everything necessary to address them

And he’s right. But before we give him a pat on the back, one question must be asked: how did the powers that be (Cheek and provost Susan Martin) allow their university’s biggest cash cow to put itself in such a position? Erik Ainge basically spent his entire show discussing that very thing this morning.

Regardless, it’s important to note that there have been three brand new, major players who are currently addressing the UT football APR woes. And it seems they’re going all Winston Wolf on the situation. I’m speaking of AD Dave Hart (whose tenure started over three-quarters of the way into UT’s current 924 APR), associate AD Dr. Joe Scogin, and head football coach Butch Jones.

Why is that so important? Because of their…

2) Track record

Dave Hart served as the right-hand man to Alabama AD Mal Moore. And say what you want about Bama, but their APR during Hart’s time in T-town is as follows:

2008-2009: 957
2009-2010: 963
2010-2011: 970

And during his tenure at Florida State, the Seminole football APR was above 950 three out of four years.

Put another way, Dave Hart has been a part of seven academic years of APRs prior to his time at UT, and his school’s APR was higher than UT’s all-time high of 949 in six of them.

Moving right along, Dr. Joe Scogin, hired in December of 2012, now heads up the UT’s Thornton Center which is basically ground control to student athletes as it pertains to academics. He held a similar position at Mizzou where he spent 12 years heading up the Total Person Program, which, according to a great piece by John Brice of VolQuest “helped the Tigers garner national recognition for their APR performance.”

And Butch Jones. Like we need another reason to have confidence in the guy, right? The APR at Central Michigan went from 920 to 945 under his watch. And Cincinnati also enjoyed APR success during his tenure, climbing from a dismal 907 all the way to 957.

Simply put, these men serve as the three legs to the stool that is the UT football APR. And each have proven in the past that he knows how to get it done, and get it done well, at that.

3) Rubber hitting the road

But past performance is no guarantee of future results, right? (Well, in Dooley’s case it was, but I digress.) So let’s examine what’s happened of late.

And let’s start with the football team’s spring of 2013 GPA – a 2.8, thank you very much, which, according to Brice’s piece, includes 46 players who got a 3.0 or higher.

Scogin told VolQuest that he’s reached out to some 30 – 40 former players in an attempt to encourage them to complete their degree, many of whom, he says, are enrolled for summer classes.

(The VolQuest piece doesn’t explicitly state whether any improvement in the academic standing of former UT football players made during the summer session would count toward the 2012-2013 APR, but I have to assume it would or why would Scogins mention it?)

These are men like Jayson Swain, who not only gave their all for Tennessee during their playing days, but also ones who care enough about themselves and the program to come back and get their degree. No surprise with Swain on that one. I can tell you from what little interaction I’ve had with him – that dude gets it.

But not everyone does, right? So why in the world would UT not have reached out to players in the past? I mean, Swain needed no such coercing, but many might. So why hasn’t UT done just that in years past? Your guess is as good as mine. But at least Scogin is rectifying the situation.

But will all that translate to an APR of 956 that UT needs to be bowl eligible in 2014? Likely so, again, according to John Brice of VolQuest, who writes that “Jones is on track to see his next APR score between 955-960.”

Still, assuming Brice is right (there’s a Bob Barker joke in there somewhere…), the low end of that range is one point shy of the 956 needed. What then?

4) The contingency plan

Which really isn’t a contingency plan because it’s ongoing. Schools can improve their APR by trying to appeal to the NCAA to earn points back. Exactly why Scogin told VolQuest that, under his direction, the university has “gone back to look at every lost point over the last four years to try to identify those opportunities.”

Which could be huge. Because if UT does come up short, the Vols would be thisclose to getting the 956 needed. Which means it wouldn’t take many situations at all, just one or two, to make all the difference in the world.

Plus, as Woodberry pointed out in his GoVolsXtra piece, there’s this: “The NCAA also considers waivers and appeals for some of the toughest sanctions, although Connecticut’s attempt to elude the postseason ban was unsuccessful.”

But UConn was under the most stable of grounds, at least as it pertained to its head coach, Jim Calhoun, whose 26-year run as Huskies head coach ended with his retirement this past September, which means their APR woes all fell under one watch.

UT’s? It fell under the watch of three. The three successors to the Vols’ equivalent of Calhoun. If the topsy-turvy situation that’s come about since Fulmer’s departure doesn’t warrant special consideration, I don’t know what would.

But, assuming the unlikely scenario where UT comes up short, and assuming the NCAA turns a cold shoulder on Rocky Top and elects to ban them from a bowl game in the year 2014, then what?

5) Perspective

That’s what. Look, this is a historically low period of UT football, one which has put the Rocky in Rocky Top. So in the remarkably unlikely scenario where the Vols are APR ineligible to go bowling in 2014? I dunno, guys, would it really matter that much?

I mean, hell, the Vols haven’t won a bowl game since 2007 (the Jan 1, 2008 Outback Bowl). And they’ve not gone to a bowl since Dooley’s first year. So, even if the Vols went bowling in 2013, it’d be the first time in three years. And that’s simply not the way the Vols roll. At least not historically.

So what’s the difference between going bowling one out of three years vs. one out of four years in this historically awful period of UT football?

Not much in my book.

Would it suck? Obviously. But I think with a little perspective, the VolNation would be able to weather the storm. Especially considering that blue skies are coming.

But, I’m telling you, the VolNation isn’t gonna have to worry about that. Because Butch Jones and company’s got this thing under control. Maybe I’m being all smoke-sheepy and whatnot, but in my book, the blue skies are already here.

Making way for a beautiful big-orange sunset behind the rolling hills of Rocky Top.

Just as it should be.

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