The Portland State men's basketball program expects to be hammered by the NCAA next week with a one-year postseason ban for a failure to make sufficient academic progress.
There's the matter of an appeal. And maybe the people charged with policing the NCAA's annual Academic Progress Rate report will show mercy on the Vikings, who underwent a coaching change after the 2008-09 season. But the numbers don't lie, and so there's a fair bit of tension on the Park Blocks.
"Once you get into a hole," athletic director Torre Chisholm said, "it's hard to climb out."
Blame athletes who dropped out after their eligibility expired. Blame former coach Ken Bone, who took some high-risk players. Blame, too, low-level Division I players who left college without getting a degree because they were chasing a professional career overseas.
But first, blame this blasted APR system.
It was designed with good intentions, awarding schools points for each year athletes make progress toward a degree and for athletes who graduate. The complex system was supposed to eradicate the "football factory" or "basketball factory" that operated amid major college programs. Athletic directors at mid-majors hoped this might level the playing field, just a little.
Instead, it's mostly punished non-Bowl Championship Series colleges.
Understand, 107 schools were penalized by the NCAA in 2009 with sanctions that resulted from the APR. Among those, 93 were non-BCS conference colleges. Also, of the 30 programs, including PSU, that were warned that sanctions if there weren't improvements in 2010, none came from BCS conferences.
A closer look reveals a bigger issue. Because only 14 of the 73 BCS colleges were penalized (19.1 percent) to 93 of the 257 non-BCS programs (36.2 percent). Non-BCS programs were nearly twice as likely to be penalized as BCS conference members.
The schools outside the power conferences draw from a riskier pool of student-athletes. But that only tells a small piece of what we're seeing. Because BCS-conference schools have deeper resources, and were able to more successfully adapt to a system that rewarded colleges for guiding post-eligibility athletes to a college degree.
The NCAA is right to encourage schools to make sure their athletes are students, too. And Portland State deserves some consequence for its academic under-performance under Bone. But the APR isn't fair.
PSU responded to the APR system by spending $350,000 on new academic resources. Portland State hired two new academic advisors. It restructured it's summer-school funding for athletes. It pushed resources into post-eligibility tutoring and advising.
"Those weren't funds we had lying around," Chisholm said.
The Vikings restructured their fee support from the university, begged the student body for increased student funding, and stretched the athletic department staff more thinly. And all of this resulted in the university looking motivated, but unable to overcome the hole it was placed in after Bone left, and too many of his ex-players didn't graduate.
PSU ends up as a slow-moving target if the NCAA is going to make a lack of resources a focus point. And the APR has done just that, while giving a pass to high-profile places with deep pockets that can afford to overcome the factory stigma using an arsenal of tutors and advisors to keep the post-eligibility crowd more interested.
All the loopholes favor the big-time programs.
Three freshmen leave Kentucky after one year to go to the NBA, and the Wildcats likely will not be penalized under the current APR system because they are expected to get a guaranteed professional contract. But should one of the Vikings players leave PSU, seeking employment in Europe after one season, and fail to stick, PSU takes a "non-retention" hit.
Take a look at the BCS vs. non-BCS schools and you see vast disparities in budgets, resources, and expectations. But the NCAA wants to judge them with the same academic criteria? As if the student-athletes at PSU have access to elaborate student-learning centers? As if dropping out of PSU to chase a professional basketball dream should be viewed differently than an early-entry hopeful bolting college for the NBA?
PSU is a good bet to take a big hit next week. The low APR score has nothing to do with the current program. Barring a miracle appeal, the sanctions are likely to include a one-year postseason ban for Portland State.
Hearing that won't scare anyone at Kentucky.