Thursday, March 03, 2005

Are they trying to get him fired? 

You really have to wonder if the local newspaper has considered what it's doing with its headlines today. It's top story is titled "SCSU Hockey in Academic Cellar".

The Academic Progress Rate report, which details academic eligibility, retention and graduation of student athletes for Division I sports, revealed St. Cloud State had the second-lowest score among 57 men's hockey teams.

Each student athlete on athletic scholarship is evaluated on four points: academic
eligibility after fall semester, returning for spring semester, academic eligibility after spring semester and returning to school the next year. St. Cloud State attained 97 of 108 possible points last season.

The report converts the points into a percentage of the points attained versus the possible points. For St. Cloud State, that was 89.8 percent, for a score of 898, after
the 2003-04 school year.

An APR score of 925 is equivalent to a graduation rate of about 50 percent, according to the NCAA. ...

Teams with scores below 925 after two years of measurement are subject to a loss of scholarships for players who were academically ineligible.

But how does a student athlete become academically ineligible, particularly when the GPA of the hockey team as a whole is 3.08?

The Huskies lost two points after sophomore defenseman Tim Conboy was released from the team and signed a pro contract with the San Jose Sharks. He left school during the spring semester, leaving him academically ineligible to return. They lost two points after freshman forward Brent Hill left at the semester break to play in the Western Hockey League. And they lost two points after sophomore forward Brian McCormack, who became academically ineligible, was released from the team.

St. Cloud State lost one point each after redshirt freshman forward Bille Luger was released and transferred to Division III St. John's, junior forward Garrett Larson was released and transferred to Division III Wisconsin-River Falls, and senior forward Matt Hendricks and senior defenseman Colin Peters did not return in the fall to finish their degrees. Hendricks and Peters are playing minor-league hockey this season, and Peters also was one of the 10 players who made the all-academic team. The Huskies lost a point because defenseman Greg Tam did not return to school in the fall of 2003. He transferred to Division III New England College.

If any combination of two points from the above players had been retained, the Huskies would have been above 925. This year's team could attain a perfect 1,000 score, but it's expected seniors Peter Szabo, Mike Doyle, Dave Iannazzo and Matt Gens will pursue pro hockey before finishing their degrees. If everyone else on athletic scholarship returns in good academic standing, the score will be 958.

So Coach Craig Dahl has recruited some players that turn pro, raising the cost of recruiting good players. With other players who aren't cut out to play D1 hockey, he encourages them to transfer out rather than burning up scarce scholarships. And for this he is punished. Remember that at this university, less than 45% of students who enter SCSU graduate within six years.

The newspaper then runs at the top of its sports section, "Harrington Settles in at SJU" describing how the coach at St. John's, John Harrington of Miracle on Ice fame, is doing such a great job out on the edge of town. One wonders whether the newspaper is running a campaign to get Craig Dahl fired?

Two points about this report besides the context above. First, this sort of thing gives players some great leverage in dealing with the coach. "I better have more ice time soon, Coach, or I am leaving for Stinkhole State. Sure my time on the ice might cost you a point or two in the standings, but another APR point could cost you a scholarship." Regardless of whether you think college athletes should be paid or not, that's a lousy incentive program.

Second, one way to avoid this problem is to keep your marginal players in school but not let them lace up skates. Now, which schools could afford to do this and which schools could not? This seems a naked attempt by bigger schools to squeeze smaller programs out of D1. If SCSU won't give Coach Dahl the ability to keep those students around (i.e., a scholarship for a player you won't play) and they transfer out, that's not his fault. You might fault him for recruiting players who end up not cutting it at D1, but that shows up in the record already; accusing the program of not graduating people is disingenuous.

BTW, the one school ranked in the APR below SCSU? Ohio State. Hugh Hewitt, call your office!