There Are Things To Blame Jindal For, And Then There’s This…

Today over at the Independent Weekly, which is the Lafayette version of Gambit for the unwashed, there’s a piece by Dan McDonald on this business of Southern, Grambling and UL-Monroe getting football and/or basketball teams banned from NCAA postseason play thanks to bad Academic Performance Report scores.

McDonald, who was UL-Lafayette’s sports information director for a long time before going to work for his wife’s media relations shop, is now a columnist for the Independent Weekly. His column hasn’t been particularly memorable in the past, but he managed to capture some attention with this one.

That’s not to say it’s good.

The upshot of the piece is that Southern’s football and basketball programs, and ULM and Grambling’s hoopsters, are going to spend some time in the NCAA penalty box due to poor APR scores – and it’s Bobby Jindal’s fault.

Are you concerned, Gov. Jindal, about this week’s NCAA release of the Academic Progress Rate report for the nation’s collegiate athletic programs?

You should be. They’re an indictment of your administration’s support of Louisiana higher education.

McDonald starts this thing off with a pretty obvious gaffe by saying “eight schools” were hit with APR penalties and then alleging that half of them – which means four for those of us who wouldn’t trash our alma mater’s APR if we were on the hoops team – come from Louisiana.

Southern, Grambling and ULM come to three, not four. Southern’s got two programs going to jail, so between the three schools there are four programs. It’s explainable, but it’s still sloppy. It looks like bad math. You don’t want to make glaring errors like that when you’re talking about academic performance.

Then he explains that the APR scores in question come from a four-year period from the 2006-07 to 2009-10 academic years. In two of those academic years Jindal wasn’t even Louisiana’s governor; he took office in January 2008, after the 2007-08 academic year was more than half over.

But what McDonald fails to do is any real research before he trashes Jindal’s commitment to higher education. Had he done so, he’d realize that the three schools in question are being penalized, generally, for posting the same APR scores they’ve always posted. And if McDonald had checked the numbers and the history, he might realize that the problems for which he’s blaming Jindal could well have been pinned on his predecessor Kathleen Blanco – the darling of the ULL establishment given that her husband Raymond “Coach” Blanco was that university’s Dean of Students.

Specifically, Southern’s football program didn’t just have its first run-in with the NCAA over poor APR scores. In fact, the Jags’ current APR score of 899 is one point off the high-water mark for the program – a 900 score for the 2008-09 academic year. Southern’s APR record in football is as follows…

Football Southern University, Baton Rouge LA 2004 – 2005 865
Football Southern University, Baton Rouge LA 2005 – 2006 873 Historical Penalty – Public Notice = Yes
Football Southern University, Baton Rouge LA 2006 – 2007 869 Historical Penalty – Public Notice = Yes
Historical Penalty – Scholarship Reduction = 6.3
Historical Penalty – Practice Reduction = Yes
Football Southern University, Baton Rouge LA 2007 – 2008 895
Football Southern University, Baton Rouge LA 2008 – 2009 900
Football Southern University, Baton Rouge LA 2009 – 2010 899 Historical Penalty – Public Notice = Yes
Historical Penalty – Scholarship Reduction = 1.67
Historical Penalty – Practice Reduction = Yes
Historical Penalty – Championship Ban = Yes

Notice, if you will, that for the first three years of Blanco’s governorship Southern’s football APR score hovered between 865 and 873 – some 30-35 points lower than it is under Jindal. In other words, if Jindal is responsible for any of this it would appear that he’s struggling to overcome the damage Blanco did.

Now let’s take a look at the Southern basketball program…

Men’s Basketball Southern University, Baton Rouge LA 2004 – 2005 856
Men’s Basketball Southern University, Baton Rouge LA 2005 – 2006 820 Historical Penalty – Public Notice = Yes
Men’s Basketball Southern University, Baton Rouge LA 2006 – 2007 837
Men’s Basketball Southern University, Baton Rouge LA 2007 – 2008 842
Men’s Basketball Southern University, Baton Rouge LA 2008 – 2009 847 Historical Penalty – Public Notice = Yes
Historical Penalty – Scholarship Reduction = 2
Historical Penalty – Practice Reduction = Yes
Men’s Basketball Southern University, Baton Rouge LA 2009 – 2010 852 Historical Penalty – Public Notice = Yes
Historical Penalty – Scholarship Reduction = 2
Historical Penalty – Practice Reduction = Yes
Historical Penalty – Championship Ban = Yes

Again, to the extent the governor is responsible for any of this stuff we see that Blanco did massive damage to Southern basketball’s academics. The Jag hoopsters had an 856 score, which is pitiful, in Blanco’s first year as governor and within a year she dropped it by 36 points and it’s never recovered. But in his first two years as governor Jindal improved Southern men’s basketball’s APR score by 10 points.

Now let’s look at Grambling’s men’s basketball program.

Men’s Basketball Grambling State University LA 2004 – 2005 939
Men’s Basketball Grambling State University LA 2005 – 2006 951
Men’s Basketball Grambling State University LA 2006 – 2007 930
Men’s Basketball Grambling State University LA 2007 – 2008 895 Historical Penalty – Public Notice = Yes
Men’s Basketball Grambling State University LA 2008 – 2009 884 Historical Penalty – Public Notice = Yes
Historical Penalty – Scholarship Reduction = 2
Historical Penalty – Practice Reduction = Yes
Men’s Basketball Grambling State University LA 2009 – 2010 873 Historical Penalty – Public Notice = Yes
Historical Penalty – Scholarship Reduction = 1
Historical Penalty – Practice Reduction = Yes
Historical Penalty – Championship Ban = Yes

Wow. Sure looks like Blanco managed to wreck this program on her way out the door as governor, doesn’t it? Grambling used to be a perfectly respectable program from an APR standpoint, but by her fourth year in office she’d put it in a death spiral, and Jindal hasn’t been able to arrest the decline.

Now let’s look at UL-Monroe.

Men’s Basketball University of Louisiana at Monroe LA 2004 – 2005 802 Immediate Penalty – Scholarship Reduction = 1
Men’s Basketball University of Louisiana at Monroe LA 2005 – 2006 803 Historical Penalty – Public Notice = Yes
Men’s Basketball University of Louisiana at Monroe LA 2006 – 2007 837
Men’s Basketball University of Louisiana at Monroe LA 2007 – 2008 848
Men’s Basketball University of Louisiana at Monroe LA 2008 – 2009 874 Historical Penalty – Public Notice = Yes
Historical Penalty – Scholarship Reduction = 2
Historical Penalty – Practice Reduction = Yes
Men’s Basketball University of Louisiana at Monroe LA 2009 – 2010 852 Historical Penalty – Public Notice = Yes
Historical Penalty – Scholarship Reduction = 3
Historical Penalty – Practice Reduction = Yes
Historical Penalty – Championship Ban = Yes

Here, you might actually be able to make an argument that Jindal’s governance has let the air out of an improving program. Then again, using McDonald’s logic you could still say that even with the big falloff from 2008-09 to 2009-10 ULM’s basketball team is still better off with Jindal than with his predecessor. Of course, McDonald alleges ULM’s APR score was 712 instead of the 852 the NCAA’s official APR database records it as you can see above. Where he gets that number, he doesn’t say.

None of this stops him from finishing with a flourish…

None of the eight can be considered national athletic powers, and their penalties are as much a statement about resources as they are about poor academic performance. ULM has by far the lowest budget of the state’s FBS (formerly Division I-A) schools, and Southern and Grambling are at the bottom in funding among the state’s FCS schools.

And who controls that funding? Why, it’s our elected officials. It’s no secret that higher education in Louisiana is a poor stepchild when compared to the financial support given to schools in most other states.

Critics may argue that athletic funding is part of the problem and is a needless expense in tight budget times. But the reality is that athletic funding totals less than 3 percent of the monies funneled into state colleges and universities, and athletics is the conduit for more income and alumni support than just about any other area of any school. Factoring in economic impact in their communities, the state’s combined athletic programs more than pay for themselves.

Instead of pointing at that 3 percent, the questions that need to be answered: Are the other 97 percent of our schools’ departments struggling just as much as compared to their peers elsewhere? And does the lack of a finite measuring stick, such as the one provided by the APR to gauge athletic academic performance, mean that our schools are way behind in so many other areas besides athletics?

The answer to both questions, unfortunately, is yes.

University presidents and administrators, even those who are hamstrung by dwindling resources in Louisiana, almost universally call their athletic programs their “front porch,” their “windows” — the most visible parts of their schools.

Governor, those windows at ULM, Grambling and Southern look pretty dirty right now, and someone’s got to do something about it pretty darn quick before the lack of state support sends others into the abyss.

What’s funny about this is Jindal warned about lousy performance by many of the state’s higher education institutions in areas outside athletics months ago. And in the case of SUNO, the worst performer in Louisiana, he actually put forth a plan this year to try to do something significant about it. What’s more, Jindal got the Louisiana GRAD Act passed last year which is intended to allow those universities to bootstrap their funding through better performance in the classroom. McDonald didn’t even mention that.

Instead, he offered up the same old boilerplate – Louisiana isn’t funding its colleges enough. Except most folks who understand the issues facing the state where higher education is concerned realize the problem isn’t aggregate funding so much as it is that Louisiana has 14 public four-year schools and that’s just too many mouths to feed.

Again, McDonald doesn’t even address that question. All he offers is that Jindal isn’t spending money Louisiana doesn’t have on athletic programs that don’t perform in the classroom – which somehow means he’s not doing his job as governor.

This week we’ve been pretty rough on Jindal for his administration’s lousy work in the current legislative session. But there are things worth blaming him for and there are things which are ridiculous.

McDonald’s piece is the latter, on virtually every level.



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