The expected ax that the University of Central Arkansas men’s basketball program had been concerned about for months came down Wednesday.
The UCA men will miss conference and NCAA postseason play for the upcoming season due to Academic Progress Rate (APR) issues, according to Dr. Brad Teague, UCA’s director of athletics.
APR is a formula based on retention, progress toward a degree and graduation rates that is a major standard for evaluating NCAA programs. A program falling below the minimum standard over a four-year period faces sanctions.
"We are disappointed that our retention and eligibility rates in men’s basketball were low last year," said Teague. "It is our only deficient sport in the APR. We have addressed the issue by deciding to start over fresh with a new staff and squad."
UCA had appealed for a waiver based on its men’s program having three head coaches within a year, but the NCAA denied the waiver stating that coaching changes are not a reason to make an exception.
UCA’s average four-year score for men’s basketball was 901, which was high enough under the previous criteria, but not according to new standards imposed this year. Individual sports must now average a 930 (a 93 percent graduation and retention rate) over the four-year reporting period to avoid penalty.
UCA’s latest single-year score reported for the 2012-13 academic year was 848, giving the program a 901 average in the reporting period from 2009-10 through 2012-13. The result is a ban from all NCAA postseason play for the 2014-15 season. The Bears will still be eligible for invitational postseason tournament play not sponsored by the NCAA.
Former UCA player Russ Pennell was hired as UCA’s new head men’s basketball coach on March 7 and he and his staff retained only one player from the 2013-14 squad, freshman Ethan Lee of Camden, who has a 3.0 GPA.
Teague said that he and Pennell decided that starting over and rebuilding with more academic-minded players in the long run rather than having to be concerned about current players who were below and/or on the borderline for multiple years.
"Basketball is such a small squad that if you lose only one or two people (to academic eligibility), you may not make the score," Teague said. "We decided it was just best to start over rather than miss a few points every year. The good news is we have a new staff and our athletes want to be here and do the work.
"Whether you are at 898 or 200, you are still below the line. We just needed to wipe the slate clean."
"Sometimes to reach your goals, you must come to the realization that there is a problem that must be fixed," said Pennell in a news release. "We are in a situation which must be addressed and given priority to. Our desire is to be one of the most successful basketball programs in the Southland Conference on the court and in the classroom. Our No. 1 goal is to produce quality people who desire to excel academically and athletically.
"We will get through this and make our university proud of our student-athletes."
Earlier this week, Lamar and Houston Baptist received postseason bans for 2014-15 for APR reasons. Combined with Oral Roberts leaving the Southland Conference, each of the eight eligible teams (Incarnate Word and Abilene Christian are not) will make the SLC tourney field. That field would have been seven if New Orleans had not been granted a waiver for significant improvement from the year before.
Teague said UCA is striving for enough improvement to apply for a similar waiver next year.
"You can recover in two years if you average 950 and do it in one if you get to 1,000," said Teague. "We know we’ll be way down (in APR) for this past season because we are losing so many players. So, the only way we can avoid it (a penalty) is to apply for a waiver based on improvement. And we have a precedent."
(UCA Sports Information contributed to this report)