The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is taking the recent changes to the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate benchmark seriously. But the Mocs aren't panicking about the higher standard; instead, they're raising their own.
On Aug. 11, the NCAA board of directors approved an increase in the four-year APR average benchmark, raising it from 900 to 930. Laura Herron, UTC's senior associate athletic director for compliance, said the school's goals for every program are higher than that.
"[The change has] been on the horizon and it's concerning because the penalties are more progressive, but we feel like we're in a good spot here," Herron said. "We're not aiming toward the bottom number. Our goal is actually to have everyone at a 950."
The most recent APR scores were released in May and four UTC programs had a multiyear score below 930: football (925), men's indoor and outdoor track (928) and women's soccer (889). Several others were just above the new benchmark.
The women's soccer team is the only UTC program facing penalties this season for a low APR score. It was docked four hours of team activity time per week.
Under the new system, teams that have scores below 930 will be subject to penalties, just as teams that don't reach 900 are penalized in the current system. Penalties include scholarship and practice-time reductions and a postseason ban, which the UTC football team incurred in 2009.
The NCAA Committee on Academic Performance will meet in October to finalize all of the details for the new format, including, perhaps most importantly, how quickly it will be implemented.
While the new system may present some challenges to several UTC sports, the timing is at least good. If it had been implemented a few years ago, when football and wrestling were having a hard time approaching 900, those programs might have been in serious trouble.
Athletic director Rick Hart said Herron has an APR improvement plan in place that essentially sets 950 as UTC's benchmark.
"We had already, for our internal culture, kind of reset the bar at 950," Hart said, "because if you get to a 950, we feel that's where you need to be to where even if you have a year where something quirky happens beyond your control, that gives you enough of a cushion to where you're still going to be in OK shape."
The Football Championship Subdivision coaches' preseason poll was released Monday and the Mocs were ranked No. 23. Appalachian State is No. 2, Georgia Southern is third and Wofford is eighth. Another UTC opponent, Jacksonville State, is No. 9.
Defending national champion Eastern Washington begins the season at No. 1.
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mocsbeatCTFP.