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UConn ban prompts congressional response

By Pat Eaton-Robb
April 7, 2012
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HARTFORD, Conn.—Two members of Congress are planning to take a closer look at the NCAA after Connecticut's men's basketball team was banned from next year's postseason because of past academic problems.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and Rep. John Larson, both Connecticut Democrats, said Friday they believe the system used to enforce NCAA standards "often appears arbitrary and unfair."

UConn faces a postseason ban because of several years of low scores on the NCAA's Academic Performance Rate. The school argues the penalty was applied retroactively and hurts current students, who had nothing to do with the low scores.

"We believe these issues demand Congressional attention because the questions regarding fairness for student-athletes have gone on too long - and the reforms that have been made are not yet sufficient," Larson and Blumenthal said in a joint statement. "Over the coming days we will be working together and with our colleagues to shine a light on the way the NCAA enforces its rules and review all possible courses of action to compel reform with the goal of ensuring the welfare of student-athletes."

The NCAA this week denied UConn's latest appeal for a waiver of the academic requirement, though the school is still hoping to become eligible for the 2013 postseason by having the rules changed again to allow it to submit more recent test scores.

The NCAA's Committee on Academic Performance is expected to take up that issue either later this month or in July.

"We respect the views of the members of the Connecticut delegation," NCAA spokeswoman Amy Dunham said Friday. "The NCAA is committed to upholding the academic standards our member institutions have approved, as they support student-athlete success both on the court and in the classroom. We will respond quickly to any requests we may receive from members of Congress."

The NCAA approved rules in October requiring a school 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, in order to qualify for the 2013 postseason tournament.

Connecticut's men's basketball program scored 826 for the 2009-10 school year. UConn's score for 2010-11 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. Athletic director Warde Manuel said the men's basketball team had a perfect APR score last semester.

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.

"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.

The NCAA said schools have known since 2006 that APRs below 900 could result in penalties.

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