As expected, the NCAA brought University of Kentucky Coach John Calipari some public relations ammunition on Thursday with its unveiling of Academic Progress Rates for individual coaches.
NCAA officials expressed the hope that such figures, which are a byproduct of earlier releases of APR numbers for college teams, can be used by prospects as an aid in making a college choice.
"I would hope most student-athletes are thinking of their athletic success, but a little bit about preparing for life after intercollegiate athletics," said Walter Harrison, who headed the NCAA committee that created the coaches APR database.
Calipari's APR numbers suggested that the UK coach has a record for academic achievement by players to show prospects as well as on-court success. With the unprecedented five first-round NBA Draft picks from earlier this year, Calipari would seem well-armed to impress prospects.
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His 2007-08 University of Memphis team had a perfect APR score of 1,000. His final Memphis team of 2008-09 had a 980 APR score.
"I have always been committed to academics," Calipari said during a camp appearance Thursday morning in Maysville. "The kids have had the support they needed. They've had the discipline they've needed."
Calipari's last four Memphis teams' composite APR would rank in the top 20 nationally, the NCAA said.
"It's hard to argue the numbers," Calipari said. "The numbers, whether APR or graduation rates, will be good. Hopefully it'll get higher and higher with everything we're doing."
For comparison's sake, Louisville Coach Rick Pitino had a perfect 1,000 APR score in 2006-07 and a 936 four straight years before dipping to a 923 in 2008-09, the last school year involved in Thursday's release.
Among Southeastern Conference coaches, Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings had a 1,000 score in 2006-07 and 2008-09, Florida's Billy Donovan had five straight years of scores in excess of the 925 standard and Alabama's Anthony Grant had three 1,000 scores and no number worse than 940.
Nationally, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and Roy Williams of North Carolina had three and four scores of 1,000, respectively. Their worst scores were 942 (Duke in 2005-06) and 977 (UNC in 2007-08).
Harrison, the president of the University of Hartford, said he hoped the new set of APR numbers would strengthen the sense of accountability that coaches may feel about academic success.
"The vast majority of coaches are doing very well," he said, adding that coaches "take their job as educators very seriously."
However, Harrison also acknowledged that some coaches feel they bear too much of the responsibility for players doing well in the classroom. He said he did not agree with that view.
"We believe the college sports culture is changing for the better," he said. "We think it's an enhanced culture of academic preparation and accountability."
While the individual APR numbers may put a greater onus on coaches to promote classroom performance, the NCAA chose not to take the step of having APR-related penalties follow a coach to a new job.
The APR, which was created by the Committee on Academic Performance at the behest of the NCAA Division I Board of Directors, seeks to quantify how well athletic departments keep players eligible and retain them in good academic standing. Programs must meet a benchmark standard of 925, which is the equivalent of a 50 percent graduation rate. To fail to meet that standard while also having a player leave the program while ineligible for competition the following year is to risk such penalties as loss of scholarships or ban on post-season participation.
Theoretically, coaches could leave a program in such a lurch while moving to a position at another school.
When asked about having penalties follow a coach to his next school, Harrison suggested that option was losing support.
"I haven't heard a lot of talk about that in the last year," he said. "It was a thoroughly discussed option two or three years ago."
Harrison said he had no "strong personal opinion" about APR penalties following a coach to a new job.
Calipari's APR numbers counterbalanced his first Kentucky team's struggles in the classroom. UK's grade-point averages in the fall and spring semester in the 2009-10 school year were 2.025 and 2.18, two of the four poorest since the school began compiling team GPAs.
Harrison said he considered the grade-point average to be a more flawed tool in determining a team's academic performance than the APR or the Graduation Success Rate.
Although all three measurements are imperfect, he added. He said the most accurate depiction would result from combining all three.