Updated 

Despite APR, Golden Lions still eligible for SWAC football title


Editor’s Note: This is an update from an earlier version of this story online that indicated UAPB would not be allowed to play in any postseason contest. Check back for updates to this story.

Despite an Academic Progress Rate well below standard, Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s football team — and the other nine in the Southwestern Athletic Conference — will be eligible to compete for a conference championship this fall.

APRs for each NCAA Division I athletic program were released Wednesday, and UAPB posted a score of 882, well below the NCAA benchmark of 930, earning the program a postseason ban and reduced practice time for the upcoming season from college athletics’ top governing body. However, in accordance wth a similar decision the SWAC made for the men’s basketball tournament in March, all SWAC teams will still be able to play for spot in the championship game, to be held in Houston in December.

“As a result of the decision made for basketball, all teams are eligible for postseason play in the SWAC,” said Zena Lewis, the conference’s assistant director of media relations, via phone Wednesday evening. On duty at the SWAC baseball tournament in New Orleans, he declined to comment further, adding the SWAC would release an official statement Thursday morning.

UAPB coach Monte Coleman reiterated his team’s standing within the SWAC.

“We had a conference call with Edgar Gantt, the associate commissioner of the conference, and all of the head football coaches, and he assured us that all teams would be eligible for the SWAC championship,” he said.

UAPB still would not be eligible for the NCAA Division I Football Championship playoffs, but the SWAC does not send a team to that tournament.

Lonza Hardy Jr., UAPB’s athletic director, had not returned a call seeking comment as of 8:55 p.m. Wednesday.

The latest APR posts come after the Golden Lions men’s basketball team served two consecutive one-year postseason bans for similar APR issues. The SWAC allowed all 10 teams — four of which could not qualify for the NCAA tournament — to compete in the conference tournament after the NCAA approved the conference’s plan to award the automatic NCAA berth to the eligible team that finished the highest.

After winning the SWAC football championship in 2012 with a 10-2 record, UAPB slipped to a 2-9 mark last fall, largely due to the ineligibility of many key players because of academic concerns neither Coleman nor the university has specified. Some of those players were cleared to play later in the season.

“That had a hand in (the 882 score),” Coleman said. “A big hand. A lot of guys were not eligible. Some of the guys being ineligible caused us to lose points.”

An athlete receiving any athletically-related financial aid earns one point for remaining academically eligible and another point for staying in school or graduating. To figure an APR, the quotient of the total points earned divided by the total points possible is multiplied by 1,000.

“I’m not disheartened about losing the points,” Coleman said. “That hurts. That hurts bad. The thing I’m encouraged by is the efforts the administration put into place to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Coleman mentioned making study hall mandatory for student-athletes at risk of becoming ineligible, the addition of academic support personnel and the ongoing creation of an academic support center among those efforts.

He added 12 of his players graduated in December and nine more graduated this month. The Golden Lions had 20 seniors on the 2013 roster prior to the start of the season.

Ten of the 16 UAPB athletic teams scored below 930, but only the football team was penalized. The other nine include: women’s volleyball (929), men’s basketball (904), women’s cross country (892), women’s outdoor track (879), women’s indoor track (879), men’s cross country (857), men’s indoor track (855), men’s outdoor track (854) and men’s golf (726).

It was not immediately clear how some programs that did not meet NCAA standards were not penalized. NCAA offices were closed Wednesday evening.

The UAPB women’s tennis team scored a perfect 1,000, while women’s soccer had the school’s second-best score at 970. The men’s tennis team scored highest among male programs with 969.

Other APRs for UAPB include: women’s basketball, 945; baseball, 938; and softball, 933.

UAPB is one of nine Division I football teams that cannot participate in postseason playoffs or bowls in 2014. Alabama State (870), Mississippi Valley State (822) and Prairie View A&M (908), also from the SWAC, are ineligible, as are Florida A&M (885), St. Francis of Pennsylvania (916), Savannah State of Georgia (846), Idaho (901) and UNLV (925).

But Coleman is still happy about his university’s efforts to address ongoing APR-related issues.

“I think we’re making milestones, compared to what we were in past years,” Coleman said. “We can only be excited about the job they (administration) are doing.

“We are making strides to get us up to par. This isn’t anything we are taking lightly.”