UWM ban a setback for rising program

Trib File Photo
Trib File Photo

Shortly after its memorable NCAA Tournament run came to an end, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee men’s basketball team was dealt a crushing blow.

The NCAA’s Committee on Academic Performance informed the school Wednesday that its men’s basketball program will be banned from the 2015 postseason due to unsatisfactory cumulative Academic Performance Rate scores. Attempts made by the program to appeal the suspension were denied.

The ban dictates that the school will not be allowed to participate in next season’s NCAA Tournament, the Horizon League Championship or any other postseason tournament.

It will serve as a major setback to a program that appeared to be on the rise.

During this year’s Horizon tournament, the Panthers turned their season around after finishing fifth in the conference. Milwaukee clinched the conference’s NCAA spot after defeating Valparaiso, top-seed Green Bay and Wright State to win the championship. The Panthers were bounced in the NCAA’s second round to No. 2 Villanova 73-53.

The minimum APR score required by the NCAA is a 930 out of 1000, and Milwaukee recorded a score of 908 for the four-year 2012-13 cycle, resulting in the suspension.

While the ban came mainly from mistakes of the recent past, the university already took steps toward improving student athlete academics. The school’s academic support staff employed just one advisor until 2011, but the university added its third to the staff in 2013. A new class was created two years ago that focuses on transitioning student athletes into college life, and in the fall of 2013 it became mandatory for incoming student athletes to be screened for extra learning necessities and assignment of additional support.

Milwaukee Athletic Director Amanda Braun said in a statement that the team will “have to replace four hours of practice each week with four hours of academic activities” and that “basketball-related activities will be limited to five days instead of six.”

“We are aware that problems did occur in the past, but we have faced them and made changes and are accepting the consequences from the NCAA,” Braun said. “Well before we even started the appeals process, we began implementing new processes to help all of our student-athletes have more success in the classroom.”

As of now, there is no indication that head coach Rob Jeter’s future with the program is in jeopardy and there is no report of any Milwaukee recruits asking for release.

“I am very proud of the steps that we have taken in regards to the APR score,” Jeter said in the statement. “The quality of the student athletes in our program cannot be stressed enough and we are fully committed to supporting them.”

For guidance, the Panthers can look no further than to this season’s NCAA champion. Connecticut received a similar ban due to APR after winning the national title in 2011, and the Huskies rebounded to win another title in their return to postseason play.

While Connecticut remains amongst the top programs in the nation, the suspension will likely hit mid-major Milwaukee much harder, making the road back to prominence that much more difficult.