NCAA proves flexible with HBCUs

When the NCAA announced its new Academic Progress Rate standards last May, the only high-profile school impacted by the hike was Connecticut. But there were a handful of historically black college and university athletic programs impacted by the rule, and NCAA president Mark Emmert announced that the NCAA would do more to work with such schools to help them avoid such penalties in the future.

On Thursday, per an NCAA release, that's exactly what the organization is going to do:

After the enhanced APR standards were adopted by the Board last fall, the Committee on Academic Performance recommended the creation of a limited-resource advisory group to evaluate and provide input on issues specific to limited-resource and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The resulting group’s recommendations to CAP included allowing limited-resource institutions more time to make meaningful changes for teams that need additional help in the classroom, while still holding institutions accountable for progressing toward a 930 APR (which predicts about a 50 percent graduation rate).

“We have an obligation to work with HBCUs and limited-resource institutions to make sure their student-athletes have every opportunity to be successful academically,” Emmert said. “It’s important to look at a variety of options and be as deliberative as we can to ensure our actions facilitate success, not limit it.”

You can already imagine the Connecticut fans -- not to mention plenty of pandering politicians -- evincing outrage. How could the NCAA give HBCUs more time, but not UConn! Why are the Huskies stuck with different rules? This isn't fair!

You know what? Maybe it isn't. But it isn't fair that Connecticut has its wealth of recruiting resources, not to mention its academic staff, or its big-time conference affiliation, or any of the other things that separate elite Division I men's basketball programs from the likes of Grambling and Jackson State. HBCUs and other low-resource schools operate in an entirely different world, with an entirely different mission.

These teams aren't competing for national championships. They're competing for the experience of playing in the first round of the NCAA tournament, if they're lucky. But really, more than anything, they're competing to exist. These teams play guarantee games just to maintain a men's basketball program, so they can in turn offer scholarships to kids who might otherwise never have had the opportunity to go to college. As Roy S. Johnson wrote last summer, that's the primary, if not the sole, mission of the HBCU. But that requires a shoestring budget. There are fair reasons why an HBCU might not be able to afford its students the army of tutors and regimented academic support staff available to a program like Connecticut, or any other high-major entity. Comparing the two is silly.

At the end of the day, Connecticut had few good excuses for why it couldn't do what pretty much every other Division I program managed to do, which was consistently maintain an APR score high enough to preserve NCAA tournament eligibility in 2013. Historically black college and universities and other low-resource institutions have those excuses, not that they'd be eager to use them. In fact, they're not even excuses. They're simply the way things are.

Connecticut fans might be eager to call the NCAA's new policy toward such schools "more NCAA hypocrisy." I think it's just being reasonable -- and admirably so.