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Conditions unique to the sport contribute to its problems, but even with these handicaps taken into account, baseball underachieves when gauged by a new academic measuring stick.
"We have a minority of programs who are struggling and others who are doing exceptionally well, but the overall statistics suggest overwhelmingly that baseball is not performing at the level it is capable of," says Wake Forest athletics director Ron Wellman, a former college baseball coach and chairman of a committee studying the sport's problem. "That has caught the attention of the (NCAA) board of directors."
The board was so alarmed by baseball's academic profile last year it considered immediately cutting the length of the season. Instead, a 26-person committee was formed to advance ways the sport can improve its Academic Progress Rate without draconian reductions. The APR, implemented in 2005, is the NCAA's tracking device for all Division I sports.
That committee will address the NCAA board in April.
"We have identified some positive steps, but there will be spirited debate, both within our committee and with the board as well," Wellman says.
Baseball's grade-point average is relatively high, and its APR of 931 compares favorably with those of other high-profile sports such as football (929) and men's basketball (927). But closer inspection reveals what has those inside the sport so concerned.
High school baseball players enter college with significantly stronger academic profiles than football and basketball players, as measured by core-course GPAs and standardized test scores. Even with this academic base, baseball players make less progress toward degrees, transfer more often and leave school earlier than players in other sports, according to NCAA research.
"The reality is we're under a microscope now," says coach Paul Mainieri, in his first year at LSU after 12 seasons at Notre Dame. "Our players have got to perform better in the classroom, and we have to keep them in school."