For the second straight year, and the second time since the NCAA started punishing schools for poor Academic Progress Rate performance, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is penalty free.
UTC in fact will have a lot to brag about when the NCAA releases the single-year scores for 2010-11 and the latest four-year averages later this spring, senior associate athletic director and senior woman administrator Laura Herron said.
UTC isn't allowed to disclose all of its APR numbers before the NCAA's membership-wide release, which likely will happen within the next month, but Herron said she could announce that 11 of UTC's 17 teams produced perfect scores of 1,000 for the 2010-11 academic year.
"That's the most we've ever had," she said, "by far."
A year ago UTC had six perfect scores, which was a record at the time.
UTC's APR performance has been on the rise since Rick Hart took over as athletic director six years ago. There have been some bumps in the road, most notably the football program's postseason ban in 2009, but every sport's numbers are heading upward.
Hart isn't yet prepared to celebrate. UTC has set an internal benchmark of 950 for all of its programs, and not all of them have reached it for the most recent single-year score or the multiyear average.
"I think we've still got a couple of programs that are below the 950, but all of our programs are doing really well," Hart said. "It'll be a good story to tell when we get there. Once we get everybody above a 950, I think maybe you can start to use words like 'celebrate.'"
Russ Huesman became the football coach in December 2008, when the program was being hit with scholarship and practice-time reductions and the postseason ban in his first season. The program had no margin for error because another bad score could have led to suspension from competition.
Huesman is proud of the work his players have done in the classroom to turn things around -- UTC's score of 992 for 2009-10 was the second-highest in the Southern Conference -- but the Mocs being free of penalties shouldn't be newsworthy, he said.
"We shouldn't even be talking about it," he said, meaning that merely being good enough to avoid penalties is a minimal expectation.
All of UTC's current single-year and multiyear scores are above 900. The scores will be released soon, but the school has known the numbers since the fall, once the retention numbers were added to the formula. Hart said all of UTC's programs could raise their four-year averages to 930, the new NCAA benchmark, with good scores in 2012-13.
"We won't know until everyone gets back in the fall, but each of the sports has known during this year what they need to do to be above 930 and to get to a 950," he said.
The gap between when UTC forwards its numbers to the NCAA and when they are released is so long that it's sometimes hard to keep track of which numbers are for which period.
"We've known it for so long that I keep thinking that we're supposed to be reporting some new numbers," Hart said of the upcoming release.
The NCAA has set a higher benchmark and has established a new penalty structure, which will take effect when the 2012-13 numbers are released next year. Whereas a postseason ban was among the last penalties repeat offenders were subject to in the old penalty system, it now is the first.
The new benchmark number of 930 is being installed gradually. For the next two academic years, teams will be subject to penalties it they don't have a four-year score of 900 or above or a score of 930 or higher for the two most recent years.