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    Saturday, June 03, 2023

    UConn should have cared sooner

    Fittingly, UConn's perch on a rural campus frames the crusade du jour within the men's basketball program. Imagine a stately barn in a pastoral setting ... with its doors flung open, horses galloping freely down the lane.

    That's the illustration that belongs with the school's latest proposal to the NCAA: The barn door's already open. And if the NCAA really wants to show some teeth - in a meaningful way, for once - it will simply offer an absorbing "too little, too late."

    UConn has proposed reducing the number of games it will play next season, forfeiting some revenue and barring coach Jim Calhoun from meeting off campus with prospective recruits. That's all if the NCAA grants a waiver to allow the Huskies to play in the 2013 men's basketball tournament, a story unearthed Wednesday through some nifty reporting from the Associated Press.

    UConn isn't eligible for the NCAA tournament as it stands because of insufficient academic achievement.

    Some background: UConn's score for the Academic Progress Rate, a baseline by which the NCAA aims to implement stricter academic standards, was 893, below the mandated minimum score of 900. Many school officials are certain the score will be significantly improved, but not enough to boost the score to 900 for this year.

    The APR is based on whether kids stay in school and remain academically eligible. The next four-year rolling score will include individual academic year scores from 2007-08 (909), 2008-09 (844), 2009-10 (826) and 2010-11. That means UConn, even if it scores 1,000 (a perfect score), will be unable to boost its rolling score to 900.

    The minimum score of 900 amounts to a passing grade. Certainly not excellence.

    And from 2008-2011, the scores of below 900 suggest a consistent neglect of academic responsibility.

    This is not a one-season hiccup. This is a pattern. UConn deserves no praise whatsoever for its sudden epiphany: Holy Calculus, Martha: You mean they actually need to go to class?

    The APR - a bit esoteric, admittedly - nonetheless is a fair measure of progress. If a student-athlete is in good academic standing and leaves school early to pursue a professional career, the team is not penalized and loses no APR points, per NCAA rules. But if a student-athlete leaves early and is in poor academic standing, the team loses two points, making it harder for the team's APR to recover.

    Keyword from the previous sentence: good academic standing. Not a 4.0 grade point average. You know what good academic standing requires? Go to class and do some work.

    Is that asking too much?

    How come it's not asking too much of Geno Auriemma's women's basketball program?

    How come this is never an issue with football?

    It's an issue with men's basketball because Calhoun just didn't care enough about it.

    UConn, with its recent 893 score, lost two scholarships because it had two "0-for-2" players (left school with unsatisfactory academic achievement). It has been reported that the players are believed to be Darius Smith and Jonathan Mandeldove.

    The APR penalty here would have been a duller ache had Smith and Mandeldove remained in sufficient academic standing. Translation: They didn't do enough schoolwork.

    Nobody really did for three years.

    Three years.

    There's just no defense for that.

    How is it nobody knew - or cared - that there wasn't enough work being done just to stay eligible?

    UConn's burgeoning persecution complex with the NCAA would have us believe the NCAA is the bad guy here. The NCAA is punishing the kids for someone else's mistake. Then let me suggest this: Let the kids go to the 2013 tournament and suspend Calhoun for its duration.

    Fair to all parties, no?

    The NCAA has established a fair baseline. The overwhelming majority of schools across the country - and programs right on the UConn campus - adhere to it. The ones that don't, such as Cal-State Northridge, Chicago State, Grambling, Southern University and Louisiana-Monroe, aren't eligible for this year's tournament. So much for UConn being "singled out."

    Lest anyone twist this issue, remember that it's irrelevant whether all the social commentators out there think academic achievement is a necessity for high-profile athletes. This is about adhering to the rules as they exist. And about a three-year pattern of disregard for them.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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