How the APR and Apathy Hurt Cougar Football

Smart wins.

Those were the words of Bob Knight – a man with 902 wins in Division 1 basketball and an impressive personal record in the chair toss.

All kidding aside, intelligence should become more of a priority for the WSU Football program in the wake of eight scholarship losses last week. The penalty is due to a low score in the Academic Progress Rate, or APR. The APR is a fairly complex system that grades every school on their ability to retain players and/or produce graduating student athletes. Without going too much into the details, WSU’s score of 916 fell below the standard of 925. If a school fails to meet that benchmark, they lose the number of scholarships equivalent to the number of players who left the team ineligible the previous year. WSU had eight players leave ineligible, so they lose 8 scholarships.

Bill Doba was widely regarded as being a “nice guy”. And while that is one of the characteristics that made him an amicable figure on the Palouse (and still does), it also may be one of the reasons why WSU fell into the APR’s trap. Most BCS-conference schools avoided the APR penalty because, quite simply, they use their resources. Tutors, aids and borderline academic standards are enough for a lot of schools to at the very least put on the facade that they are producing student athletes. Whether or not those athletes are learning anything or focusing on anything outside of football is questionable, but the APR helps the big wigs at the NCAA sleep a little better at night.

WSU was in all likelihood using the same tools other power-conference schools use to keep their athletes nose in the books and out of trouble. But Doba, the classic nice guy, either just didn’t push hard enough or brought players into the program who just didn’t care enough. You cannot and should not place all the blame on Bill, but it’s hard not to point a finger or two. Even with the distraction of game days and film studies and playbooks, passing college courses should be a priority of Cougar athletes. That means it should be a priority of the coaches. It is reasonable that schools can accept a certain number of athletes to flunk out or leave school without a degree. And the NCAA allows for that within a certain margin of error. Heck, even non-athletes can have trouble in school, and college courses just aren’t for everyone.

What is unacceptable is to fall below the standards to the point where the school loses eight scholarships. The outgoing Doba-led coaching staff should have realized it, and I’m sure they know it now. Part of it is motivating the athletes to keep up on schoolwork. The other part, and the more important part in my opinion, is recruiting players who are already motivated. Remember, smart wins.

The myth about recruiting to Pullman is that because you’re recruiting kids to….. well, Pullman, that you have to sacrifice certain things to bring in talent. Maybe you take a chance on a poor student from California because no one else wants the risk. Maybe you play up the social atmosphere of Pullman to bring in a player who is shy about leaving the city for Middle of Nowhere, WA.

You don’t have to do those things. Tony Bennett proved it by bringing in talent and then shaping a team that made up half of the all-Pac Ten academic team this past season. That doesn’t mean he won’t take a chance – the signing of DeAngelo Casto, who has documented struggles with his high school grades, proves that. But what I think you’ll find with Casto is that Tony and the staff see the potential to make a student better through the resources the university provides. It’s OK to take gambles within reason. It’s not OK to watch 2/3 or your main running back corps, along with several other players, fall off the map in 2007 because of academic problems.

Wulff has the deck stacked against him. It is difficult, particularly in football, to pull in kids who have both the talent and character to be successful in Pullman. But he must find a way. I do not think it is reaching to say that Doba’s staff would care a little more and try a little harder if they went back in time. Apathy isn’t an option. It is not just the future of athletes in question here, but the future of human beings. A substantial number of Cougar, or college football players in general, will not get on a NFL roster. At the very least they should leave WSU prepared for success in another venture.

The main point is this: there is no reason to avoid smart, motivated players. They keep you out of trouble with the NCAA, and they are often equally skilled at catching a ball or running on artificial turf. If WSU is to find its way back to a prominent spot in the Pac-10, they need all of their scholarships. But they also need players who are smart enough to understand the system, know a 4-3 from a 3-4, and find Sudan on a map.

Paul Wulff has zero wins at the Division 1 level of college sports. All he needs to do, for now, is listen to the advice of a coach who has over 900 more:

Smart wins.

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