NEW: The NCAA had noted UConn's "minimal academic progress," a spokesman says
The 2013 tournament ban is tied to the Huskies' expected graduation rate
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan had pushed for penalties for sub-par academics
UConn coach Jim Calhoun says his program has shown drastic improvement
The University of Connecticut men’s basketball team cannot compete for next year’s national championship after the NCAA denied the school’s appeal of a postseason ban based on its athletes’ academic performance.
The Huskies earlier had been ordered to sit out the 2013 NCAA tournament, because of its past players’ sub-par academic performance rate. Led by longtime coach Jim Calhoun, the program had won that tourney last spring and, thus, captured the national title.
The University of Connecticut appealed that ruling, but to no avail, both the school and the NCAA said Thursday.
“It is disturbing that our current players must pay a penalty for the academic performance of students no longer enrolled,” University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst said in a statement. “No educator or parent purposefully punishes young people for the failings of others.”
The NCAA defended the decision, with spokesman Erik Christianson stating “schools have known since 2006” about the “serious penalties, including postseason restriction” for programs that did not meet set academic requirements.
“Also, in UConn’s first waiver denial, NCAA staff noted the men’s basketball team’s overall lack of academic achievement and minimal academic progress over several years,” Christianson said by e-mail to CNN.
The move is a result of the NCAA’s decision to implement a recommendation, backed by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, to penalize programs that did not or were not on track to graduate at least half of their student athletes.
“If you can’t manage to graduate half of your players, how serious is the institution and the coach and the program about their players’ academic success?” Duncan, who played basketball while attending Harvard, told reporters last spring. “Are you actually preparing your student athletes for success – is it just on the court or in life?”
The NCAA notes that a 930 APR, or academic performance rate, equates to a program being at the fulcrum to meet that criteria – with higher scores indicating that a program is on track to graduate more than half its players, and lower ones indicating it is not.
The APR score for the UConn men’s basketball’s team, based on data from the 2009-2010 academic year, was an 893, according to the NCAA’s website. That led to the NCAA immediately determining that the Huskies must offer two fewer scholarships, as well as setting the stage for next year’s postseason ban.
Any university team in an NCAA-sanctioned sport had to “achieve a 900 multiyear APR or a 930 average over the most recent two years to be eligible” for postseason play during the 2012-2013 school year, according to Christianson.
Because the NCAA is “still in the waiver process,” there is no “exact figure” yet as to how many other programs will be penalized like Connecticut’s men’s basketball team, added Christianson.
The academic standards will get even more stringent next school year, the spokesman noted. By then, a 930 APR score average will be required over four years, or at least a 940 for the two most recent years, for an interscholastic athletics program to compete in a 2014-2015 postseason tournament.
The University of Connecticut said, in its release issued Thursday, that its men’s basketball team is well ahead of that requirement. That includes a “nearly perfect 978” APR score for the squad that won the national title and a “perfect APR score” for the fall 2011 semester.
“While we as a university and coaching staff clearly should have done a better job academically with our men’s basketball student athletes in the past, the changes we have implemented have already had a significant impact and have helped us achieve the success we expect in the classroom,” Calhoun said.
This isn’t the first blow by the NCAA to the Huskies program, which traditionally has been among the best in its Big East conference and the nation as a whole.
In February 2011, the NCAA suspended Calhoun for three conference games, reduced the number of scholarships and mandated recruiting restrictions after determining that team staff members violated rules by exchanging 150 calls and 190 text messages with prospective recruits and providing complimentary game tickets.
The NCAA’s infractions committee also found that Calhoun knowingly allowed a booster and certified NBA agent to participate in recruitment and make prohibited financial contributions to a potential student athlete.
The coach responded that he was “very disappointed with the NCAA’s decision in this case.”
A 2005 inductee into the basketball hall of fame, Calhoun has won three NCAA national championships in his career – including his last 26 seasons with the Huskies – and ranks sixth all-time with 873 victories, according to the official UConn athletics website.
CNN’s Greg Botelho contributed to this report.