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How FSU football received the lowest Academic Progress Rate in the FBS

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Assigning responsibility for the Seminoles’ near-failing grade.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday saw the release of the most recent Football Bowl Subdivision Academic Progress Rate (APR) data. These are the numbers used by the NCAA to determine whether or not student-athletes are pulling their weight in the classroom, as well as to penalize programs that fall too far behind. The latest feedback could have been far better for Florida State football, which finds itself dead last among 130 FBS teams.

But analyzing this data requires some perspective before blame is assigned. That begins by understanding just what the APR entails. Below is the NCAA’s own description, along with a helpful graphic.

The APR, or Academic Progress Rate, holds institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.

The APR is calculated as follows:

Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid 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 then multiplied by 1,000 to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate.

In addition to a team’s current-year APR, its rolling four-year APR is also used to determine accountability.

Teams must earn a four-year average APR of 930 to compete in championships.

APR Formula

To begin, it’s important to emphasize that while this data is the most recent to be released, that doesn’t mean that it includes this past school year (2018-2019). This is the most-recent four-year average, culminating with the 2017-2018 academic year.

Florida State head coach Willie Taggart did not take over at the helm in Tallahassee until December 5, 2017. So the 2017 fall semester was all but in the books. Taggart then had 15 days before 2017’s Early Signing Period to salvage a Seminole class left largely unattended by what had become a lame-duck staff under Jimbo Fisher. At the same time, Taggart had to hire a staff of his own.

And the obvious chaos brought about by an entire regime change in the coaching ranks is further exacerbated by player turnover, which hurts a program’s APR, even if that player was in good academic standing. And player attrition is often higher than normal when changing out a staff— for good reason. Those players were recruited by a different staff with their own goals and methodologies. It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault when a player transfers out after a coaching change— sometimes the fit just isn’t there anymore.

Taggart and company needed badly to flip a poor culture at Florida State, one that let accountability fall by the wayside for both coaches and players. Scant repercussions awaited players who skipped classes under Fisher, and players are creatures of habit. But it’s unfair and unrealistic to expect Taggart and his staff to have suddenly reconstructed FSU’s broken culture immediately upon taking over. However, if they can’t turn things around, the NCAA, unlike the Fisher regime, will enforce consequences.

What are the results of not making the 930 minimum APR? Here are the details from the NCAA:

The first penalty level limits teams to 16 hours of practice per week over five days (as opposed to 20 over six days), with the lost four hours to be replaced with academic activities.

A second level adds additional practice and competition reductions, either in the traditional or non-championship season, to the first-level penalties. The third level, where teams could remain until their rate improves, includes a menu of possible penalties, including coaching suspensions, financial aid reductions and restricted NCAA membership. The Division I Committee on Academics, which oversees Division I’s academic infrastructure, has the discretion to apply appropriate penalties once teams have fallen below the benchmark for three consecutive years.

While postseason bans are commonly applied as a penalty in the NCAA enforcement process, they are not considered as a penalty for poor academic performance. Instead, the requirement that teams achieve a minimum APR is simply a benchmark for participation in championships. Just as teams must win in competition to be eligible for championships, they must also achieve in the classroom.

So are the ’Noles in trouble? No. As specified above, a rolling four-year average is used to determine punishments, so that programs dealing with drastic, sudden changes, are not penalized unjustly. Still, FSU’s rolling four-year APR averages for the last few years show how the Seminoles have trended downward as the Fisher era ran its course. Florida State needs to get this ship righted.

  • 2014-2015: 945
  • 2015-2016: 939
  • 2016-2017: 941
  • 2017-2018: 936

Of course, even for football teams keeping above the 930 threshold, APR averages can still matter. If there aren’t enough six-win teams to fill all of the available bowl slots, five-win teams can be selected— but priority is given to those with the best APR results. The APR needs to rise as a sign of Taggart and his staff changing the culture in Tallahassee and holding players responsible for their actions, both on the field and in the classroom— if it winds up coming into play to squeak FSU into a bottom-tier bowl game, we’ll likely be having a very different conversation altogether.