by Michael Marot
INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—NCAA President Mark Emmert expects athletes at historically Black colleges and universities to make the grade—and he’s willing to help after seeing the results of the latest Academic Progress Rates.
The NCAA banned Jackson State and Southern of the Southwestern Athletic Conference from postseason play in football next season and did the same thing for Southern and Grambling in men’s basketball, citing poor classroom performance by all three schools and a host of others in the SWAC and Mid-Eastern Athletic conferences.
The SWAC does not get an automatic bid to the NCAA’s FCS playoffs, but its own conference title game could be affected.
The NCAA released the penalties May 24. Southern became the first school to be banned from the postseason in two sports in the same year—football and men’s basketball—because of academic performance.
“You’re right that there are a number of historically Black colleges and universities that have been penalized, especially through the postseason ban,” Emmert said. “We are concerned about that, have met with those institutions to help them develop ways for improvement and to help provide resources to help them be successful.”
The impact of the penalties could swing the balance of power in the SWAC and MEAC, both comprised of HBCUs, and both of which get automatic bids to the NCAA basketball tourneys, too.
The numbers are striking: The NCAA evaluated more than 340 schools for the APR report but only 24 of them—about 7 percent of the total—are considered historically Black colleges or universities.
Yet of the 58 harshest penalties handed out this year, fully half went to teams in these two conferences.
SWAC Commissioner Duer Sharp told NCAA.org that turnover in school staff—including school presidents—has hurt academic performance of athletes.
Whatever the explanation, the SWAC must now decide whether to let Jackson State and Southern play in its football championship should they advance, and whether to allow Southern and Grambling to compete in the men’s basketball tournament. If either were to win the championship, the league could lose its automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“We don’t have a firm timeline,” Assistant Commissioner for Communications Tom Galbraith said. “Our conference meetings aren’t until the first week of June, and I wouldn’t expect anything finalized before that time.”
Southern University released a statement from the office of Chancellor Kofi Lomotey saying that the latest APR report “sends a clear message that we must and will improve; and the process has already begun.”
The statement said that Southern officials have spent several months meeting with NCAA representatives, educators and others to work on strategies to “quickly address and correct some behaviors that have landed Southern University in this unenviable position.”
The plan includes a system to track athletes’ classroom performance and a greater emphasis on academic counseling.
The 10-member SWAC has a long and storied football tradition thanks in large part to three powerhouse programs—Grambling, Jackson State and Southern.
Coach Eddie Robinson spent 56 seasons as Grambling’s coach and sent a long list of players to the NFL. The most notable may have been quarterback Doug Williams, the former Super Bowl who is coaching his alma mater for the second time.
Jackson State, in Mississippi, produced one of the NFL’s greatest players, running back Walter Payton, along with Hall of Famers Jackie Slater and Lem Barney. And Southern’s alums include another NFL Hall of Famer, Mel Blount, as well as Philadelphia Eagles record-setting receiver Harold Carmichael and Arizona Cardinals defensive back Aeneas Williams.
But it’s not just the bans that could hurt the competition in either league.
Texas Southern, which played for last year’s SWAC football title, must give up nearly 15 football scholarships, while Jackson State lost half a dozen. Both of those schools will have their practice time reduced, too.
The 13-member MEAC, is taking a similar hit, minus the bans.
Delaware State is losing nine football scholarships, North Carolina A&T is losing three and both schools must contend with new practice limitations, too.
The punishments could be just as debilitating—or more—in basketball.
Coppin State will lose four scholarships, while Norfolk State is losing two. Those two schools, along with Morgan State, also face practice reductions.
Also, Mississippi Valley State and Southern will each lose two scholarships in basketball. Grambling will have one scholarship taken away.
In all, five schools in each league face penalties.
Norfolk State Athletics Director Marty L. Miller said the Spartans’ APR performance was hurt by the loss of three players to transfers or other reasons.
“We made every effort to assist them to remain in school, but could not resolve the reasons for their departure,” Miller said. “We will continue to address the transfer issue in order to eliminate the penalty status for the next reporting period.”
What can be done?
Walter Harrison, president at the University of Hartford, said the NCAA’s committee on academic performance is debating whether the supplementary support fund, which provides $1 million in grants to low-resource schools, is working the way it should or whether the NCAA can do more.
To Emmert, though, the bottom line is simple. Every school can improve in the classroom.
“You worry about the impact it (penalties) can have on any of those conferences, but the important thing is to promote the success of our student-athletes and that’s our desire to promote academic success,” he said. “It is also the case that we do need to be cognizant of the missions of HBCUs, which isn’t the same as all of our institutions. It’s asking them to complete their missions.”
(AP Sports Writers David Brandt in Mississippi and Brett Martel in Louisiana also contributed to this report.)