Is that because student-athletes are doing better? Well, no doubt that's part of it. But that kind of change in the statistics points pretty clearly, I think, to schools also learning how to manipulate the APR scores.
OK, manipulate is probably a bad word. Let's say ease the pain. Over the years, coaches and administrators have learned to address one basic goal above all others. Even if they're going to lose an athlete to transfer or other reasons, make sure he or she does it at the end of a semester and is academically eligible when he does it. In some sports (especially those with small squad sizes), even one guy quitting and dropping out of school while ineligible can mean a huge drop in the APR score.
Consider, too, that the highest-profile schools - for lack of a better grouping name we'll call them the BCS-level schools - have seen their APR scores rise and their penalty numbers decrease almost to the point that it's no longer even an issue (provided they keep it up).
In the history of the APR, 32 teams have been hit with postseason bans, all in the last two years. Just one - Connecticut's men's basketball team - was a member of a power conference. Most - almost all, in fact - are schools the NCAA terms "limited resource'' schools. And nearly all of those are what the NCAA also has a name for, the HBCUs - historically black colleges and universities.
In other words, the schools with the money and the success have figured out how to work inside the system. Others? Not so much.
Look at the number of sports teams being penalized in any way for low APR scores. This year, the number was 36, none of them BCS-level schools and virtually none even considered mid-majors. They are almost all the Gramblings and Alabama States and the Norfolk States of the world.
A few years ago, that wasn't the case. As recently as two reporting cycles ago, LSU, N.C. State, Rutgers, Louisville, Maryland and others were being docked scholarships in certain sports. Go back five years and the list is too long to chronicle. That one included three West Virginia teams, too - wrestling, men's soccer and women's rowing.
Yes, while the scholarship-reduction penalties have declined across the board, the postseason bans are just beginning. But with the exception of the UConn basketball team last season, none of the schools penalized are the ones that have learned the system and have the wherewithal to play in it.
Does that mean the APR is useless, though? No. The fact is, if schools are keeping student-athletes eligible and on a better track toward graduation, it's a good thing, even if the primary intent is to avoid APR sanctions. For instance, if a basketball coach fosters a better relationship with a kid so that if he decides to leave he won't do it the wrong way (for APR purposes), fine. And if he manages to make certain the kid stays eligible through the end of the semester so that he won't wreck the team's APR, who does that hurt?
The bottom line is it's still a benefit to the student-athlete, no matter the reasoning behind it.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.