SWAC allows UAPB, 3 others into men’s basketball conference tournament

The Southwestern Athletic Conference on Saturday announced it was lifting its ban on four teams ineligible for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament from its upcoming conference tournament.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff was among the four teams, all of whom were penalized for issues related to Academic Progress Rates. UAPB, along with Mississippi Valley State, Grambling State and Southern, are now allowed to participate in the March 11-15 SWAC tournament in Houston, but neither can advance to the NCAAs. UAPB (2010), Valley (2012) and Southern (2013) have been to the national tournament within the past four years.

The absence of the four teams would have left the SWAC with six in its tournament, which usually awards an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament to the champion. Southern was most recently penalized in December because of “unusuable” data needed to determine APR scores, The Advocate of Baton Rouge, La., reported on Feb. 20.

UAPB and Valley were banned last June for the second straight year because of APRs below NCAA benchmarks. A source close to the UAPB team in January revealed data that would result in qualifying scores, but there has since been no announced changes to the APRs that would result in an overturn of the NCAA ban, which has been the case with Cal State-Bakersfield and Alabama State.

“Today, we received the approval from the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Committees to amend our men’s and women’s basketball automatic qualification policy for the NCAA Tournament,” SWAC commissioner Duer Sharp said in a statement Saturday. The statement added the policy, which previously banned NCAA tournament-ineligible teams from participating in SWAC championship events, has been amended for 2014 only.

The SWAC’s automatic bid to this year’s NCAA tournament will go to the highest-finishing NCAA-eligible team in the conference tourney. If two or more eligible teams tie as the farthest, the automatic bid will go to the team seeded the highest.

“It is the conference’s goal to ensure that each student-athlete has equal opportunity for academic and athletic success,” Sharp said. “The Conference and Council of Presidents acknowledge the financial strain that affect our member institutions in meeting APR requirements. With the approval of the amended policy, the SWAC not only can provide a quality athletic experience, but optimistically provide the means for academic advancements.”

In the SWAC, a university’s struggles meeting APR requirements are often tied to the lack of resources devoted to ensuring the academic success of each student-athlete. Last June, UAPB athletic director Lonza Hardy Jr. announced plans for additional academic support personnel to address APR matters.

The announcement ends almost two weeks of speculation about all 10 teams’ postseason status within the SWAC. Asked on Feb. 21 about the matter, Sharp denied any truth to it but acknowledged hearing about the issue.