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Academics: USC dodges APR penalties

South Carolina’s football and men’s basketball teams remain on shaky ground in terms of the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate, although neither is expected to lose scholarships when the latest APR scores are released today.

Bill Bearden, the university’s faculty athletics representative, said the NCAA granted USC’s request to waive penalties for the Gamecocks’ two most visible programs.

According to Bearden, the football and basketball teams were spared scholarship cuts when the NCAA conditionally approved the waivers, along with an academic improvement plan submitted by the university to try to boost the APR scores.

Bearden said USC told the NCAA it would:

 require an academic advisor to travel with the football and basketball teams for road games;

 conduct additional interviews with some athletes during the admissions process;

 make changes to its class-attendance policy.

“They have a nice (attendance) policy,” Bearden said. “But they’re tweaking it a little bit.”

The NCAA implemented the APR four years ago, introducing a complicated formula that awards points to scholarship athletes for remaining eligible and staying in school. If a team’s APR falls below 925 (out of 1,000), it is subject to immediate penalties if players leave their university while ineligible.

The NCAA also hands out historical penalties that include scholarship losses and restrictions on practice time and postseason play to teams posting successive APR scores under 900, which equates to a 45 percent graduation rate. An APR score of 925 is roughly a 60 percent graduation rate.

The APR scores cover a four-year period beginning with the 2003-04 academic year.

The Gamecocks’ basketball team has lost one scholarship, choosing to take its penalty early after forward Mike Jones was dismissed from the university a year ago. Darrin Horn’s squad was in danger of losing additional scholarships under the historical-penalty provision had USC’s waiver been denied.

USC’s football team risked losing one scholarship after former defensive tackle Stanley Doughty left school following the 2006 season without finishing the semester.

By conditionally approving the Gamecocks’ waiver, the NCAA reserves the right to impose the scholarship penalties if USC fails to meet the goals of its academic improvement plan.

But Bearden is optimistic the athletic department’s $13 million academic center, scheduled to open in the fall of 2009, will boost athletes’ grades.

The football team’s APR took a hit when Steve Spurrier dismissed several of Lou Holtz’s players after arriving before the 2005 season. It will be two years before those 2004-05 scores roll off the books.

Bearden, a marketing professor in USC’s business school, believes the key for coaches and administrators is expecting more from athletes than simply showing up for class.

“Getting (athletes) in all sports to be engaged as students is more than just going to class,” Bearden said. “I think that’s what’s critical, and I think the university recognized that and is trying very hard.”

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.