While some Northern Arizona athletic programs have done well to improve their respective Academic Progress Rates, the overall results for the school still lag compared to the rest of the NCAA Division I.
All of Northern Arizona's sports except for women’s cross country, which recorded a 989 score, were below the NCAA’s reported D-I average in a recently released report. Football, men’s basketball and women’s track and field hold the largest disparity between Northern Arizona’s score to the national D-I average of each.
The men’s basketball team's score came in at 934, four points higher than the previous year’s mark of 930, while the national average for men’s basketball was reported at 967. The football program scored 940, matching the previous score and missing the national average of 961 for the FCS by 21 points. Northern Arizona’s women’s track and field program lowered its score from the last report by just one point by posting a 964, but missed the national average of 983 by 19 points.
The good news is that none of Northern Arizona’s programs are in danger of facing any penalties by the NCAA, but the scores still leave room for improvement across the board.
“Simply meeting the NCAA APR minimum of 930 is not our goal,” Mike Marlow, Northern Arizona vice president for intercollegiate athletics, said in a recent statement. “Second, we need to be confident that the young people we bring into our program can receive the type of support to succeed academically and that NAU is the right fit for them. Finally, as a department, we will continue to recognize this effort is based on a team approach. Student-athletes, support staff, coaches and administration recognize that ultimate success takes all parties working in unison. We are evaluating all opportunities to improve the academic success and retention of our student-athletes.”
Marlow added that the he is proud that Northern Arizona athletes combined for a 3.1 cumulative GPA -- which he noted as a success when looking at one specific academic metric.
Northern Arizona is currently searching for a new associate athletic director for student-athlete development, as Michael Kallsen is no longer listed on the school's official athletics website.
For the men’s basketball and football programs, players leaving the program while not in good academic standing have played a substantial role in the low APR marks for each. The benchmarks for those GPAs are 2.6 when transferring to a four-year university and 3.1 when transferring to a two-year school, and for an athlete who leaves with a GPA under those benchmarks, it can be detrimental to the original school's scores.
“When student-athletes transfer with a GPA below these benchmarks, it is particularly damaging to the APR calculation,” Marlow said.
But when an athlete meets those benchmarks, the original school can request for a transfer adjustment to the APR to alleviate the departing athlete not graduating with the program.
Athletes such as Karl Harris, who left the men’s basketball program as a graduate transfer this past season, don’t lower the program’s APR. But if an athlete leaves while struggling in academics, specifically if they are academically ineligible and never regain eligibility, then there is a detrimental hit to the APR score.
Ideally, athletic programs need to avoid a situation in which an athlete is ineligible and then leaves the program in order to keep the two points that each athlete contributes to the APR score -- which itself is determined in a much larger formula.
APR is just one metric, Marlow said, and there are other ways programs are judged, such as graduation success rate and cumulative GPA.
Northern Arizona is roughly average nationally in most sports when looking at the graduation rate, with a few exceptions including football, women’s basketball and women’s golf.
Men’s basketball, which has posted Northern Arizona’s lowest APR score in back-to-back reports, is near average among other D-I schools in the graduation success rate.
CHANGES IN THE MARKET
With players transferring from football and men’s basketball programs at a higher rate than in recent memory, there has been some concern about the viability of the APR score as a metric because when it was first created in the early 2000s, the transfer market was not nearly the same as it currently is.
“When the APR was first established, the transfer system was not as robust as it is today, with over 14,000 student-athletes entering the transfer portal over the last year,” Marlow said. “The NCAA Committee on Academics reviews the APR based upon changes in legislation. The exact impact of the new transfer model on the APR remains unknown at this time.”
The transfers happen for a variety of reasons -- whether it be the need for more playing time, not being comfortable if an athlete is far from home and even just if the particular athlete struggles academically and a fresh start is needed.
Marlow said none of the reasons for an athlete to transfer show a cause that is a product of Northern Arizona’s academic system, but does give Northern Arizona reasons to look at how each program goes about recruitment and finding the correct fit for the school and the athlete.
“None of these factors indicate a systemic cause, but collectively, indicate the importance of assessing a variety of factors during both recruitment and on-boarding into college life,” Marlow said.