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WSU, Idaho will lose scholarships

PULLMAN – The Washington State and Idaho football teams each lost eight scholarships as a result of NCAA academic penalties announced Tuesday.

The Vandals men’s basketball team also will lose one scholarship.

The programs scored low in the 2006-07 Academic Progress Rate, which penalizes teams for losing players and rewards teams for retaining them. No other Cougars or Vandals athletic programs were penalized.

Because WSU knew it would be penalized, the football team planned ahead and has already taken part of the hit.

“We’ve been well aware,” said Steve Robertello, WSU’s associate athletic director who oversees NCAA compliance.

Since the team had two unused scholarships for the 2007-08 season, and because colleges must take penalties at the earliest opportunity, two of the eight lost scholarships have already been accounted for, Robertello said. The remaining six already have been factored into the 2008 recruiting class.

One of 37 Division I football teams penalized, the Cougars will have 79 available scholarships for the 2008-09 season, down from the 85 maximum.

Idaho football will have 77 scholarships in football and 12 in men’s basketball.

Because the NCAA evaluates a team on its four-year APR average, the penalized teams will take the heat for three more years, though not to the same degree.

“So what we have to be careful of, moving forward, is not having that number of athletes in those situations. We’ll work through it,” said WSU athletics director Jim Sterk.

“I believe the loss of scholarships impacts us directly in our depth over the next two or three years,” head football coach Paul Wulff said in a statement. “At the same time, this is an opportunity for our young players to come in and contribute right away.”

After the 2006-07 academic year, the WSU football team scored a four-year average of 916 out of 1,000, missing the NCAA-mandated benchmark of 925 needed to escape penalty. The WSU men’s basketball, baseball and volleyball teams also missed the mark, scoring 905, 921 and 923 respectively.

But those three programs won’t lose scholarships.

If a team makes the 925 score, it gets off without losing scholarships. If it misses the mark, the team will lose a scholarship for every athlete who left the team ineligible over the past year, Robertello said.

The Idaho football team kicked seven players off the team, five players left for personal or academic reasons, and one departed because of an injury, according to a Vandals news release. One basketball player transferred because he was ineligible to play at Idaho.

“We take academic progress and success very seriously,” Rob Spear, Idaho’s athletics director, said in a release. “We lost retention and ultimately some eligibility points because we made decisions to protect the character of our athletic program.”

A college can appeal the APR penalties, but WSU decided to accept the cuts and Idaho’s appeals were rejected.

The scholarship penalty boils down to this: If a team loses an ineligible athlete, it cannot reuse that athlete’s scholarship. From the university’s point of view, it’s as if that athlete is still using his or her scholarship, Robertello said.

The NCAA only takes into account student-athletes on scholarship.

Sterk noted that WSU’s student-athlete graduation rate is second in the Pac-10 only to Stanford. The APR purely evaluates retention, he said.

These APR numbers are based on the 2003-04 through 2006-07 academic years. (APR data collection started in 2003.) WSU football went into the 2006 season with a three-year score of 930. By the end, the Cougars’ four-year average dropped to 916 after 2006-07 gave them a score of 874.

“If you ask (former) coach Bill Doba, I think he would tell you that they made some mistakes in recruiting,” Sterk said.

The only other Pac-10 schools that took scholarship cuts were Arizona in men’s indoor track with one scholarship lost and USC men’s basketball, which will be limited to 11 scholarships after scoring an 863 average.

The WSU men’s basketball team, even though its APR average was 905, has seen significant improvement over its score of 813 in the 2003-04 season – former coach Dick Bennett’s first year as head coach.

In the next two years, the team’s scores improved to 938 and 923, then to 942 in Tony Bennett’s first season as head coach in 2006-07. Next year, the team’s four-year average won’t factor in the 813 score.

Scoring worse was Idaho’s men’s basketball program, which tallied 880 points and was one of 35 teams given a warning letter. The 26 teams that scored less than 900 for two consecutive years could face decreased practice time or loss of scholarships.

Teams that score less than 900 three consecutive times could be excluded from postseason play, such as football bowl games and basketball tournaments. After four years, Division I status could be revoked for the school’s entire athletic department.

In a news release, NCAA president Myles Brand noted men’s basketball continues to be a national concern. Fifty-three teams were penalized.