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Liberty Responds to Released NCAA APR Report

May 6, 2008
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Director of Athletics Jeff Barber announces the department's response to the recent NCAA APR release.

Director of Athletics Jeff Barber announces the department's response to the recent NCAA APR release.

Today, the NCAA released its recent findings for Academic Progress Rates (APR) for all Division I institutions.

Liberty University's women's basketball, women's soccer and women's volleyball programs continued to be recognized for excellence in the area of APR. The University's men's basketball program was reprimanded for its past APR performance, resulting in today's public reprimand and a loss of two scholarships in accordance to NCAA guidelines.

"We, at Liberty University, are committed to success in the classroom and the graduation of our student-athletes," said Jeff Barber, Liberty University Director of Athletics. "Women's basketball, soccer and volleyball have set the standard for what we desire all our programs to achieve academically."

The Academic Progress Rate, now in its fourth year, measures the eligibility, retention and graduation of student-athletes competing on every Division I sports team. It also serves as a predictor of graduation success, measuring in real time the eligibility and retention rates of athletes who received athletically related aid.

The most recent APR scores, which were released today, are based on a multi-year rate that averages scores from the 2003-04, 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2006-07 academic years.

The goal of academic reform is improvement, not punishment. Not only does academic reform ensure accountability for student-athletes, programs and institutions, but it also provides fairness by considering individual circumstances per program and school.

From 2003-04 through 2006-07, the Liberty men's basketball program faced significant challenges, losing a number student-athletes who left the institution ineligible at the time of their departure.

In anticipation of today's announcement, the Athletics Department self imposing the NCAA sanctioned penalty early by reducing the number of scholarships for the 2007-08 academic year by one. The program will also be subject to a scholarship reduction for the 2008-09 year, concluding the NCAA penalties.

"Unfortunately, from the years of 2003-04 through 2006-07, we had a substantial number of men's basketball players leave our program," continued Barber. "In addition, nearly all left Liberty academically ineligible according to NCAA standards. The combination of these two factors resulted in our low APR score for this program.

"However, our department has been extremely proactive in dealing with this and has made the needed improvements to place this program in a position to succeed in the future."

Recognizing the need to improve eligibility and retention scores, Barber implemented several changes. With the leadership of head men's basketball coach Ritchie McKay, along with the efforts of associate athletics director for academic affairs Kristie Beitz, the men's basketball program has shown significant recent improvement.

During the Fall 2007 semester, the men's basketball team GPA was the highest it had been in five years. Additionally, the program will have four student-athletes participating in this upcoming weekend's commencement exercises. TeeJay Bannister will be graduating with a general studies degree, while Alex McLean, Russell Monroe and Rell Porter will all be receiving sport management degrees.

Over the past 12 months, an institution-wide committee of faculty, staff and coaches was created to review current academic practices related to athletics, resulting in an improvement plan. This course of action was submitted to the NCAA in January 2008 and was met with high praises. Plan implementation took immediate effect and will be one of many catalysts to assist in the University's goal of graduating student-athletes.

"With the support from the institution, the Academic Affairs for Athletics Office created three study spaces for student-athlete academic success," remarked Beitz. "Specifically, men's and women's basketball have a new dedicated space, complete with desktop and laptop computers, tutorial rooms and a study lab.

"These improvements will allow all of our student-athletes at Liberty University the opportunity to succeed in the classroom and to face the unique challenge of achieving academically, as well as athletically."

Liberty University and its Athletics Department as a university community have implemented a variety of additional programs to support student-athlete achievement.

Staff increases have been named to the Office of Academic Affairs for Athletics, resulting in increased individualized support to all athletics programs. Additionally, facility space has been dedicated specifically to academic support, including tutorial space, computer recourses and accessibility. The department has also created a comprehensive study hall program across all athletics teams, with expanded tutorial support services.