The NCAA has turned down the University of Connecticut's final appeal on behalf of its men's basketball team for a waiver of recently instituted academic requirements - a decision that likely will keep the Huskies out of next year's postseason.
UConn doesn't qualify for the NCAA tournament because of several years of below-standard Academic Progress Rate scores. It had requested the waiver, arguing that recently instituted reforms have led to improved scores over the past two seasons.
On Thursday, UConn said its appeal failed, though the school is still hoping to become eligible for the 2013 postseason by having the rules changed again to allow it to submit the more recent test scores.
"While we as a university and coaching staff clearly should have done a better job academically with our men's basketball student-athletes in the past, the changes we have implemented have already had a significant impact and have helped us achieve the success we expect in the classroom,'' basketball coach Jim Calhoun said in a statement. "We will continue to strive to maintain that success as we move forward.''
The Big East also plans to implement a rule next that would bar any team that fails to academically qualify for the NCAA tournament from the conference postseason as well.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told the Associated Press that he had stayed out of the fight until now, but finds the decision to reject the waiver request "absolutely outrageous.'' He is calling on the NCAA to allow UConn and any other schools facing sanctions a chance to show that their current student athletes qualify for the tournament.
"It's as if they've decided to get UConn, one way or the other,'' he said. "UConn should have done a better job. But in point of fact, they are doing a better job. The results are already there. You know, grade the test.''
Under rules approved in October, a school must have a two-year average score of 930 or a four-year average of 900 on the NCAA's annual Academic Progress Rate, which measures the academic performance of student athletes.
Connecticut's men's basketball scored 826 for the 2009-10 school year. UConn's score for the 2010-11 school year was 978.
That would not be high enough. It would give Connecticut a two-year score of 902 and a four-year score of below 890.
But if more recent scores were used, UConn could be part of March Madness in 2013.
"Given where we are now, I'm not completely confident,'' Athletic Director Warde Manuel said in a conference call with reporters. "I'm hopeful, I guess would be the best word, that the committee will continue to discuss the timing of the implementation and whether or not they'll use the most current two years to determine the APR for postseason play.''
Manuel said UConn supports tougher academic standards, but does not support applying them retroactively to scores that had been recorded before the rule was in effect.
Walter Harrison, the chairman of the NCAA's Committee on Academic Performance, has said that the body will consider in April or July whether to adjust reporting dates to allow schools to use scores from the 2010-11 and 2011-12 academic year.
UConn would qualify for the tournament under that scenario. During the fall 2011 semester, the team had a perfect APR score, Manuel said.
"The approach to APR marks the first time in the history of the NCAA that it has ever implemented an academic rule significantly impacting current student-athletes without allowing the members time to adjust to the adoption of the legislation,'' Manuel said Thursday.
In seeking the waiver, the school had proposed alternate penalties, including playing a shorter schedule next season, forfeiting the revenue awarded to the Big East for participating in the 2013 tournament and barring Calhoun from meeting off-campus with prospective recruits during the fall 2012 contact period.
NCAA staff rejected the appeal in February, and its Committee of Academic Performance followed suit, and a third appeal was rejected for a third time by the committee's vice chairman this week.
NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said schools have known since 2006 that APRs below 900 could result in penalties.
"The same standards are applied to each institution; to ensure all data are comparable for each team, there is a necessary lag time in calculating all the scores at a national level,'' he said in an email. "Also, in UConn's first waiver denial, NCAA staff noted the men's basketball team's overall lack of academic achievement and minimal academic progress over several years.''
Christianson also said that "while the Committee on Academic Performance may review policy issues later this year, no changes are expected at this time.''
Manuel would not discuss how the NCAA decision might impact Calhoun's tenure at UConn. The coach has said he will announce a decision soon about whether he will return for his 27th season at the school.
"Obviously Jim is not happy about it, about where we find ourselves in the men's basketball program,'' Manuel said. "Beyond that, Jim and I have not talked about any impact of this on his decision or my decision or any part of the conversation around whether or not he will be here.
"Jim is our coach and Jim is committed to working to ensure that the student-athletes continue to do what they're doing now.''