APR for Dummies

With Tuesday’s release of the latest round of the NCAA’s annual Academic Progress Rate (APR) rankings, college football fans engaged in their yearly right of getting all hot and bothered for a day about how players are educated.

As you would expect, the APR is a ham-handed way of measuring athletes’ academic performance. The story goes that an athletic program’s overall APR is intended to in some way reflect the commitment of the program and institution to educating players, encompassing the academic aptitude of athletes and the resources provided to them to facilitate their success in the classroom.

The calculation is very simple:

“Each student-athlete earns one point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible. A team’s total points are divided by points possible and multiplied by 1,000 to produce the team’s APR.”

The APR is a number, so that means that it can be used to sort and rank things, one of our national pastimes. Along with national titles in recruiting and championships in revenue, it gives philistines something else pathetic to crow about. Best of all, like wins and bowl game appearances, coaches and athletic department officials can use the APR to fatten their paychecks.

If you’re a coach or athletic director who has a financial stake in seeing that your players keep their grades up, what would be the best way accomplish that? Basket-weaving and cheating.

The APR provides about as meaningless of a measure of academic progress as you can get. On top of that, it gives everyone in charge of educating athletes perverse incentives to do the exact opposite.

Today’s lesson: If you put any stock in the APR, get your ass back to school.