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Grip on Sports: Like most things the NCAA does, the APR is not perfect but it does help us keep score

Wendy Schuller’s EWU women’s basketball team posted a perfect 1000 in this year’s NCAA Academic Progress Report. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Wendy Schuller’s EWU women’s basketball team posted a perfect 1000 in this year’s NCAA Academic Progress Report. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • The NCAA wants everyone to believe college athletics are played by student/athletes, with the emphasis on the last word. And that those student/athletes are at a college for one reason only: to get an education. Read on.

••••••••••

• It is true, actually, in many cases. A majority of college athletes that serve under the NCAA banner are really interested in the education above all else. Playing their sport is a sidelight. An important sidelight, sure, but a one nonetheless.

That’s if you take into account Division III students and those playing Olympic sports at the Division II and I level.

But those aren’t the ones in the news on a daily basis.

No, the athletes we read and watch and hear about are the top of the pyramid. The best of the best. The ones who are attending Mirkwood University – home of the Fighting Spiders – as a steppingstone to bigger and brighter things, even as most of them can never take that next step.

No matter. The NCAA wants you to understand those amateur student/athletes, those responsible for billions of dollars in revenue for their colleges and universities, they are still on track to graduate. To reach the true Holy Grail, the diploma.

So the organization invented the Academic Progress Rate. It’s a somewhat convoluted rating of the athletes, oops, pardon me, the student/athletes, who finish their degree at a certain school. It’s a way of comparing good ol’ Mirkwood to Mordor Tech or the University of Hobbiton.

(For an understanding of how the APR works, this is a good place to start.)

Once a year the NCAA collects all the data from its member schools and releases a report. Everyone is given a number – it is, after all, sports-related. Winners and losers are determined. Schools with really bad numbers are punished, with good ones feted.

And every school gets a chance to crow. Why? It’s simple. Every school has at least one sport that is doing really well, maybe even batting 1.000. Yes, it may be men’s rowing or women’s golf or the curling crowd, but it seems everyone has a sport it can highlight in a press release.

The sports that aren’t doing well? Nothing to see here. Move along. We’ll be better next year.

A bad APR report after a losing season? See you coach. A bad one after making an NCAA tournament? We have faith in coach Boromir to turn it around.

The complicated formula serves a couple purposes. To some degree, it actually does help a school track the progress of their athletes as students. And, with its four-year averages, it gives the same schools something to parse each year, to find something positive to report.

Look, the idea is admirable. Come up with a formula that will hold schools accountable. Make sure they just don’t chew up athletes and spit them out lacking the one thing they really need: an education.

But it’s become just one more parlor trick. The result is more important than what that result represents. Schools work diligently to secure a positive outcome, not by keeping every athlete in school for four or five years and helping them secure a degree. That’s impossible in this era of transfers and early declarations and the like. No, they make sure, when the inevitable happens and an athlete moves on, that said athlete is in good academic standing, minimizing the APR hit as much as possible.

Taking a one-point hit is better than a two. It’s the rules of the game these days. After all, like everything with college athletics, it’s the score that matters.

•••

WSU: The story of East Valley’s Rodrick Fisher was first told by the S-R’s Greg Lee. It went national. Now Fisher has decided where he is going to college. Yep, WSU. That story is told by Jacob Thorpe. … Just about every Pac-12 school boasted of its APR scores. Washington State is no exception. Jacob has a story on the good news from Pullman. So does Stefanie Loh in the Times. … Around the Pac-12, the attendance at spring games wasn’t all that exemplary. Can we blame TV? … Washington had a great APR report as well. … A big basketball recruit picked Oregon, which left Arizona disappointed. … The Ducks’ offensive line is usually good.

Gonzaga: Yes, college basketball is big business. Really big business. Becky Kramer has a story today that details how big a business it is for Gonzaga. … The Bulldogs, third in the WCC with two weekends left, can still win the conference. That’s part of Jacob’s college baseball notebook. … BYU signed a junior college point guard that is expected to take the Cougars to a higher plane. No pressure or anything.

EWU: The Eagles did well in the APR. Jim Allen has the story.

CCS: The Sasquatch split another baseball doubleheader.

Empire: Spokane’s Nick Haag will get another chance in the NFL, this time with the New York Giants. Jim Meehan has more in this story.

Preps: The spring playoffs continue on, with Jim Meehan covering the 3A district golf tournament, Greg Lee previewing the postseason meets that begin today, and roundups from softball and baseball. … Speaking of softball, Steve Christilaw has a story on University’s powerful lineup. … And in track, Greg features the Freeman sprinters, who will be leaving after this year. As will their coach.

Mariners: The M’s are back to where they started. Even. Dave Nichols’ Mariners Log has all the information. And the links. We added them at the bottom.

Seahawks: What is the ceiling for these Hawks? Is it the Super Bowl? … There will be no success unless the offensive line play improves. … It’s been a long journey for one Seattle draftee. … We mentioned Frank Clark yesterday. There is more today.

•••       

• Let’s see. I graduated in four years. Played the same number of years on the baseball team (“played” is a pretty strong word in this context). I would have been very helpful for the team APR if it had been in use then. My presence probably would have boosted it to the .800s or somewhere. Until later …

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