Harvard’s APR Scores Could Have Fallen Due to Cheating Scandal

Student-athletes who voluntarily or involuntarily withdrew from Harvard for the 2012-2013 academic year due to their involvement in the Government 1310 cheating scandal could have hurt their teams’ scores in the Academic Progress Rating, an NCAA rankings metric that assesses collegiate programs’ academic performance.

A team’s APR score factors in both the retention and eligibility of its players. When student-athletes withdraw from Harvard, they generally either impact the retention or eligibility component of their team’s single-year APR score, depending on whether they leave before or after the study card deadline.

In the absence of any approved NCAA waiver exceptions, student-athletes who took a voluntary leave of absence from the College before the fall 2012 study card deadline likely would have negatively affected the retention component of their team’s 2011-2012 APR scores, which were released in June.

Again assuming that no waivers have been approved, student-athletes who voluntarily or involuntarily withdrew from the College after turning in their study cards that fall likely would have negatively affected the eligibility component of their team’s 2012-2013 APR scores, which will be released next summer.

This information was confirmed by a source in the Harvard Athletics Department, who was granted anonymity by The Crimson because of the sensitivity of the Government 1310 case.

Last fall’s cheating probe, believed to be the biggest in Harvard’s history, resulted in the investigation of approximately 125 students, about 70 of whom were forced to withdraw from Harvard during the 2012-2013 academic year for their involvement in the case.

As the scandal unfolded, media outlets reported that many of the involved students were athletes. The most prominent among those athletes were then-seniors Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey, the co-captains of the men’s basketball team, who both voluntarily withdrew from the College before the study card deadline in fall 2012, a move that, if no NCAA waivers were filed, likely would have negatively affected the retention component of the team’s APR score. Because the two co-captains did not turn in their study cards, they likely were not factored into the eligibility component of the score.

The NCAA’s Academic Progress Rating gives individual teams a score out of 1,000 points, assigning each player up to four points for each academic year. Every semester, a student-athlete may receive one point for eligibility and another for retention. The team’s total points for any given academic year are then divided by the team’s potential points and multiplied by 1,000 to calculate its final score.

Six Harvard teams registered 2011-2012 APR scores below the national average for private institutions. Among those six teams was the men’s basketball team, which checked in with a score of 925—43 points below the four-year average for private institutions. The men’s basketball team’s 2011-2012 score was the lowest for the Ivy League across all schools and all sports, though it marked an increase over the score of the previous 2010-2011 season, 914.

In a report last week, Bloomberg suggested that the Harvard men’s basketball team’s below-average APR score for the 2011-2012 season indicated a “laggard” academic performance among players. Bloomberg also suggested that if such a pattern continues, the men’s basketball team, which will be playing for its third straight trip to the NCAA tournament this upcoming season, could be in danger of losing its postseason eligibility.

However, APR scores generally have little correlation with academic performance, according to the Athletics Department source. Harvard’s student-athletes may hurt their team’s score if they fail to pass two classes in a semester or six classes in a year—which happens rarely. Teams can also be docked if their players leave the College for any reason before or after the study card deadline—which happens usually because of injury, withdrawal, or other mitigating circumstances, the source said.

Additionally, internal Athletics Department calculations indicate that the men’s basketball team will receive a perfect APR score of 1,000 for the 2012-2013 academic year—bringing its scores well above the minimum multi-year threshold necessary for postseason eligibility, according to Tim Williamson, director of athletic communications.

Furthermore, the Athletics Department source said, the men’s basketball team’s APR score for the 2011-2012 may yet be revised upward. Harvard has filed for a waiver for Max Hooper, a transfer who left Harvard after the spring 2012 semester to play basketball at St. John’s University. Following the expected approval of the waiver this semester, Harvard’s Athletics Department expects the 2011-2012 APR score for the men’s basketball team to rise by 10 to 15 points. This boost would bring the team’s four-year average score to within eight points of the average score for private schools during that same four-year period.

The player whose waiver has already been filed is not the only player for whom Harvard could apply for a waiver that could affect its 2011-2012 APR scores. Gerald Gurney, a former senior associate athletic director for academics at the University of Oklahoma, speculated that when athletes withdrew from Harvard last fall, the school could have applied for  NCAA waivers to minimize the potential effect of departures on its programs’ APR scores.

The Athletics Department declined to comment on whether it had applied for waivers for other student-athletes.

Gurney, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma, described a similar case he had handled with a student-athlete who had been suspended for a semester for academic dishonesty. Thanks to an approved waiver, that student’s suspension did not factor into his team’s APR score.

Gurney added he believes that little can be inferred from the APR rankings regarding teams’ academic performances. He cited the fact that APR considers only whether student-athletes stay in school and pass their classes, and does not account for GPA or adjust for academic rigor.

“[APR] is a meaningless metric,” Gurney said. “It says nothing about the quality of academic performance on the team.”

—Staff writer David P. Freed can be reached at david.freed@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @CrimsonDPFreed.

—Staff writer Michael D. Ledecky can be reached at michael.ledecky@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @MDLedecky.

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