SALT LAKE CITY — One of the reasons the NCAA instituted the Academic Progress Rating (APR) system in 2003 was to help slow the revolving doors of student-athletes leaving colleges on an annual basis. Many schools got in the habit of bringing players in, discarding them after a year and starting over with new players the next year.
That was the situation at the University of Utah during the Rick Majerus Era, when an average of three players left the program every year during his 15-year tenure. With two coaching changes since Majerus, the revolving door has continued to be a problem at the U., particularly the past three years when 20 players have left the program, including 15 in the last two years alone.
So with all that turnover, is the Utah program in danger of NCAA sanctions, which have hit major schools such as Syracuse and Connecticut in recent years?
Despite the 15 players leaving since Larry Krystkowiak became coach in April 2011, the Utah basketball program isn't in any immediate danger of having sanctions leveled against the program such as Syracuse, which lost a couple of scholarships, or UConn, which is facing a one-year postseason ban in 2013.
"I know none of our programs will be at risk for having to face any penalties," said Kate Charipar, Utah's assistant athletics director for compliance. "At this point because of the APR scores we have reported, we are not in jeopardy of facing any penalties."
The scores for the 2011-12 school year won't be reported until the fall, but Charipar and Krystkowiak are confident the basketball program's APR number will still be above the four-year 925 minimum set by the NCAA and well above the four-year rate of 900 that determines if teams are ineligible for postseason competition.
You can give part of the credit for that to former Ute coach Jim Boylen. Even though he may not have left Krystkowiak with great players, at least he kept his players going to class, made sure they graduated, and kept watch on their grade-point averages.
The Utah basketball program had perfect APR scores of 1,000 for both the 2009-10 and 2010-11 academic years and a 980 score in 2008-09. Because the APR is based on a four-year rolling number, the basketball numbers should be well above the NCAA benchmark even with a lower number this year, following a 913 last year.
The APR is quite complicated, but it basically comes down to points being given to each athlete in each sport for staying in the program and keeping a grade-point average of at least 2.6. If a player does transfer, no points are deducted as long as he finishes his semester and goes to another four-year school. The minimum number of 925 means a program has 92.5 percent of the possible retention and eligibility points.
Krystkowiak says he believes in the purpose of the APR, but feels like it can hurt schools when there is a change in coaches.
"I would say the APR is valid," Krystkowiak said. "I would argue, based on what happened to us last year, so much of that is out of our control. But I guess the penalty applies to the school."
Krystkowiak is referring to the fact that after Boylen was let go, a couple of his players left without high enough GPAs and some went to two-year colleges, both of which cost the program APR points. The 913 basketball APR number was the lowest in six years, but a single year's score doesn't hurt a program.
When he was named coach at Utah in April 2011, Krystkowiak didn't try to talk any of the players he inherited into staying.
Four stuck around — David Foster, Jason Washburn, Chris Hines and Josh Watkins — but another eight players transferred out of the program.
"I'm not going to keep a young man around here if it doesn't make any sense," Krystkowiak said. "I'm not going to try to talk him out of it over losing an APR point. I think at the end of the day, you try to do what's right by the kid."
Back when the APR was first instituted in 2003, the Ute basketball program had a very low number. Majerus was the coach at the time and despite his incessant talk about his team's great "academic endeavor," it wasn't in very good shape, APR-wise, when he left in 2004.
Utah's initial APR score was just 837 for the 2003-04 season, way below the cutoff line of 925, and it took all of Ray Gicaoletti's three-year reign to get the number above the cutoff.
Because the APR is a multi-year score, designed not to penalize a single poor year, the Utes were OK for a couple of years as the APR gradually took effect.
Aftter Giacoletti's first year, when a few players left the program, the score was 913, raising the two-year average to 875. The next two years, the basketball program's scores were 980 and 980, respectively, bringing it above the NCAA minimum.
That was also the score for Boylen's first year and he followed that with perfect scores of 1,000 in 2008-09 and 2009-10. After the 2010 season, the Utah basketball program's multi-year rating was 990, one of the best in the nation.
Then last year when the coaching change was made and several players left the team, the Utes' APR score dropped to 913 for the 2010-11 school year.
The score for this year won't be determined until the fall when the next school year begins and the retention points officially kick in. However, the Ute numbers will be down again with at least one player heading to a junior college and the possibility of not every player getting at least a 2.6 GPA this past semester, although no players left early.
But say the Utes get another 913 this year, their four-year average would still be 956, well above the 925 minimum required on the multi-year average. However, with the NCAA gradually increasing its standards in future years with a 930 four-year APR average required by 2014-15, the Utah basketball program can't have any more years like the past two.
"Kids ask to transfer every year," said Krystkowiak, who pointed to a recent report that said more than 500 players transferred from Division I schools. "You're going to have a little bit of that, but if you can have those guys lined up academically and not go to a juco, you can protect yourself a little bit."
Although it was obvious that the Utes preferred to upgrade their roster at most positions after their disastrous 6-25 season, the players who decided to leave — or were gently nudged out the door — are leaving on good terms with the Utah program.
"I see these guys every day," Krystkowiak said, just before the spring semester ended. "They're still part of our team and have helped us recruit. I told those guys, 'Go up and introduce yourselves (to recruits). We have nothing to hide. If they want to ask questions, be truthful.' "
It helped that players such as Watkins, who was dismissed from the team in January, stuck it out and finished the semester and got his degree. If he had dropped out of school and not finished the semester, Utah would have lost two points, which translates into about 40 points on the APR score.
"The APR is about making sure your guys are taking care of business," Krystkowiak said. "We're trying to control what we can and get these kids to good places and making sure they take care of their school work. At the end of the day if you do those two things, you don't get hit with any (negative APR) points."
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