ASU, UA get good APR marks, but fall in Directors’ Cup

Sunday musings… couldn’t help but wonder why both Arizona State and University of Arizona have improved the academic progress in their sports programs, but their overall standings in athletic performance have declined.

Since the APR standings and Directors’ Cup report came out at different times last month, most people may not have put the two together.  And there probably is no correlation between the two.

But the Academic Progress Rates (APR) released by the NCAA at both schools improved this rating period.  Arizona State actually ranked second in the Pac-10, behind only the brainiacs at Stanford (in first place for a 16th straight year).  And UofA had its best showing ever, as that school’s APR was above the penalty range in all of its sports for the first time.

The APR is a rolling four-year average that measures a school’s academic success in several areas.  It tracks the academic progress of each student-athlete, checking on eligibility, retention, and graduation rates.  It thus is able to provide a picture of the current academic culture in each sport.

In order to avoid penalties that include possible loss of scholarships, a college must maintain a score of 925 or better.

At ASU, 10 of the school’s 21 sports finished in the top three in the Pac-10, and all 12 women’s sports had scores above 970.   For the second year in a row, all of the athletic teams exceeded the minimum APR.

At UofA, six of the men’s teams and six of the women’s teams had increases in their APR.  The results of this rating period were the best for the school across the board, as each team was above the 925 minimum.

The improvement in Tucson was attributed in part to the fact that the coaches are becoming more familiar with the APR program and able to better communicate its importance to the players.

At ASU, the program’s continued improvement in APR can be traced back to 1997 when an academic task force was started.  That group worked to implement new strategies that included mandatory academic advising for all athletes, improvements to the school’s tutoring program for athletes, and the addition of academic mentors to work with at-risk students.

That’s the good news.

The bad news came with the announcement of this year’s final Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup standings.  The Cup is presented annually to the top all-around athletic department in the nation.  It’s based on the performances of a maximum of 10 men’s and 10 women’s teams, with points awarded for top finishes in the NCAA post-season; 100 points are awarded for a national title.

ASU came in 22nd among the 278 D-I schools, which was the lowest finish in 15 years.  And UofA had its worst showing ever at 30th place.

The Wildcats have been on a skid in recent years.  They ranked as high as fourth place in 1995 and fifth place in 2001.  The program was a very respectable 11th in 2006, but fell to 24th, 27th, 24th, and now 30th.

It will be up to the new Athletic Director, Greg Byrne, to begin turning things around.

For ASU, it was much more of a sudden drop this year.  They were 12th last year and fourth the year before and have generally rested in the low teens year after year.  They topped out at second place in 1981.

This year’s point total was helped by performances by the  Sun Devil women’s golf team and men’s outdoor track & field team, which both placed fourth at their respective championship events, earning the school 80 points.   And both the men’s and women’s cross country teams, plus the women’s soccer team, picked up fall championships.

The Sun Devils accumulated 792.25 points this year, but it was barely half of  what first-place Stanford (those brainiacs again) scored.  Eight Pac-10 schools finished in the Top 30 this year.  Those ahead of ASU included Stanford, UCLA (No. 4), California (9), USC (13) and Oregon (14).

There’s not much room for trash-talking between rivals here.  Both  schools can take pride in their academic accomplishments, but that’s about as far as it goes this year.

(Photo: Arizona State)