In one fell swoop, the NCAA has decided that college basketball teams that don’t perform up to par in the classroom will not be able to experience their one shining moment.
The NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors on Thursday unanimously approved the idea that college sports teams not carrying at least a 930 Academic Progress Rate averaged over four years will soon be barred from postseason competition. That means a raising of the bar of academic requirements teams will need to meet in order to go dancing in the NCAA tournament or any other sport's NCAA-sanctioned postseason.
Under the new rule, 12 teams from the 2011 NCAA tournament wouldn’t have been able to participate given their four-year average APR scores, including prominent power-conference programs that advanced in the tournament, such as Kansas State, Ohio State, Purdue and Syracuse.
Remember watching San Diego State win its first NCAA tournament game and advance to the Sweet 16 behind future first-round draft pick Kawhi Leonard and national coach of the year Steve Fisher? A four-year APR score of 921 means the Aztecs wouldn’t have been eligible for a bid.
Remember how Morehead State pulled off a stunning opening-round upset of Louisville, with the No. 13 seed and Kenneth Faried flexing their muscles against an in-state power? An APR score of 906 would have clipped the Eagles’ wings before they even took off.
Remember how intriguing it was for the NCAA to host the inaugural First Four as a way of expanding the tournament field to 68? Four of the eight participating teams -- Alabama State, UAB, USC and UT-San Antonio -- wouldn’t have gotten to experience March Madness after all. Neither would conference tournament champions St. Peter’s and UC Santa Barbara.
Most eye-opening is the fact that Connecticut, after a storybook run to the national championship, would not be able to defend its title. The Huskies would have barely qualified for the tournament with an APR score of 930 and then would have been barred from postseason play in the 2011-12 season because in May, it was announced their four-year average through the 2009-10 academic year had fallen to 893.
Because the average dipped below the current threshold of 925, UConn lost two scholarships. The teams that saw their averages drop below 900 and didn't get a special "we're showing improvement" waiver -- Cal State Northridge, Grambling, Louisiana-Monroe and Southern -- are barred from postseason play for the coming season.
By upping the standard to 930, the game is changed for everyone. Schools will need to find recruits more academically fit for college who have a desire to graduate and at the very least leave school in good academic standing if they transfer or turn pro.
Big-name coaches will need to put greater emphasis on studying or risk the embarrassment and heartbreak of telling their teams they won't be allowed to compete for a national championship.
The small schools that traditionally struggle because they don’t have similar resources as power-conference schools for academic support will have to figure something out. If this rule already had been in place, Alcorn State would have been the only school in the SWAC to be eligible for the postseason. Yikes.
Details of the NCAA’s plan are expected to be formalized by October, and there should be a grace period so schools can adjust their priorities accordingly.
But make no mistake about it. Today was a big day for college basketball.
If you want to put real teeth into the term "student-athlete," threaten to take away the chance at an NCAA tournament and the financial windfall that comes with it.
That's just what the NCAA did Thursday. That threat is now very much real.