But that all changes this year as the Gamecocks have gotten out from under NCAA academic progress rate penalties and will have a full complement of scholarships for the first time in Green’s tenure.
The JSU basketball team posted a 940 APR in Green’s first season — 2008-09. While that only brought the team’s four-year score to 859 — well below the 925 benchmark set by the NCAA and 900 for teams under sanctions — the program was granted waivers from a postseason ban and other penalties for what NCAA officials cited as the school’s recent commitment to improving academically in athletics.
The football program made a similarly significant improvement in its one-year APR.
While the relief might not translate into a first-round home game in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, JSU will have just as equal a chance as anyone in the league. The challenge now becomes to sign players who can project academic and athletic success.
“I don’t know that what has been accomplished to this point will open up the sky and we’ll be set free to go win championships automatically,” Green said. “Now, it becomes a process. We can sign more high school players we can teach and grow within our system.
“It gives our system a better chance over time, and I think that’s what we’re talking about. How good we’ll be next year? Who knows.”
One thing is certain. When the Gamecocks open practice in October, they will have their full allotment of practice time, practice days and 13 scholarships players.
They had been working with 10 scholarship players, and by the end of this past season they were down to six players available because of defections and disciplinary reasons.
“When a car stalls on the side of the road, the more people you’ve got to push it the better,” Green said. “Doesn’t mean the car’s not any good, it just needs to get back to where we can get it and get things straightened out where it’ll kind of take care of itself again. We’ve gotten more people to push and it gets us started.”
In fact, the Gamecocks right now have more than they need. Between the players they picked up in the two signing periods and those eligible to return, they are now over the NCAA limit. Green assures the team will be at the required 13 by the July 1 deadline.
The restrictions clearly had an impact on the team’s ability to compete. The Gamecocks won 11 games in each of Green’s first two seasons. The biggest impact came from players wearing down because there weren’t enough reserves in practice. The Gamecocks lost their final six games each year.
“What taking care of our academics over the first two years has done,” Green said, “has given us an opportunity to, now, try to have more achievement in some other areas — primarily on the court, which is what most people see and what most people talk about.
“I’m not sure if we all understood the impact the APR would have on trying to build a program. I think our decisions at times have been made strictly towards APR, where now we can have a better balance on what we do. Those times are hopefully behind us and never return, but the limited practice, the limited bodies, I think in particular when you’re a little deficient academically and you’re deficient athletically it makes for a tough grinding two years.”
It wasn’t the players on his roster who prompted the hand they were dealt, but the coaching staff implemented and adhered to policies to ensure the program would maintain a strong academic foundation going forward.
The APR is a floating four-year measurement of a program’s graduation, eligibility and retention rates. Green noted his program has not lost any APR points for academics. It has for retention — some by Green’s choice, some by players seeking a change — with one example being a player with a 3.0 GPA transferred to a junior college instead of a four-year school.
“There are a number of things we possibly could have done to save a point or two here,” he said, “but I think our margin of error was so small, for our numbers to go up, I think a lot of people did a really good job.”
The APR of the 2009-10 team will be reflected in next year’s report.
Green cautioned that just because the Gamecocks are back on level ground with respect to their resources, their journey to maintain academic success continues. They must and will remain vigilant, he said.
“There’s still a process we have to go through to get out (to the 925),” Green said. “Even though we made a number for a single year, we have to make it over the multi-year at some point and in order to do that we have to keep a great balance and having 13 obviously gives you a better chance. As of now, the balance has leaned toward academics. We will always … make sure there is a significant amount of focus on academics. We’re going to do that even if they did away with APR tomorrow. It is a right thing to do and not just to satisfy APR.
“We just have to continue what we’re doing. We won’t ever be perfect but I think as long as we keep a program in place that will genuinely address positive issues along with issues that are not so positive and do the right thing for the student, then I think we’ll be OK. We don’t talk to our players about APR — we talk to our players about graduating. In the back of our minds we know we’ve got an issue to pay attention to called APR, but if we do what we’re supposed to do in terms of talking to student-athletes about graduation, then the rest will take care of itself.”