Explanation of the Categories & Factors

There are numerous factors that make up the APCA Ranking. All have been identified by student athletes as the most important factors to consider when choosing a school. These factors have been grouped into three categories: athletics; academics; and treatment of athletes.   

One of the purposes of the APCA Ranking Reports is to foster change in the treatment of collegiate athletes.  Consequently, the APCA has allowed a season for improvement regarding a handful of the more complex factors. These factors will be part of future rankings, beginning with the 2013/2014 seasons. They are marked in the description below, as well as in the Detailed Analysis later in the report, with an asterisk (*). It is hoped that this approach will give schools an opportunity to review their existing policies, and to provide current and prospective student athletes with more accurate online information about their programs. Unfortunately, it is no longer feasible to rely on a school’s verbal promises. Policies must be easy to review online.


Team’s Record: The teams’ record based on games played during the regular season and post season. The record does not include preseason games.

National Championship: The team played in a National Championship in the 2012 season.

Conference Championship: The team played in a Conference Championship in the 2012 season.

Bowl and/or Tournament Appearance: The team played in a Bowl Game or participated in a tournament in the 2012 season.

Violation of NCAA Rules:  Programs that are compliant with NCAA rules are credited.  Given the number of possible violations, many of which are highly technical in nature, only those violations which could impact a team’ success or public visibility, such as the loss of scholarships or the opportunity to compete for titles or have games broadcast, are recognized. Furthermore, a school will receive better standing if it makes information about the team’s NCAA violations and standing with the NCAA publically available on the team’s website, even if none exist.

Average Attendance: Every athlete enjoys playing in front of a crowd, and attendance can reflect the level of a school’s commitment to a sport.  The average attendance at team home games for the season has been reviewed and weighted against the average attendance for the season at similar schools.

*School’s Contract Terms with the Head Coach: Many prospective student athletes select a school because of the opportunity to play for a specific head coach and his or her staff.  The chances for playing time, the coach’s style of play and overall coaching style, and his or her commitment to the school all can play a role in the student athlete’s selection process.  Unfortunately, there are instances where student athletes have chosen a school only to learn that the coach who offered convincing promises during recruitment is no longer at the school or leaves after a year. The new coach may have a different style of play or may favor a different type of athlete. Student athletes recognize that there are a variety of reasons that cause a coach to leave a school and not all reasons are within the coach’s control. It may help, however, if student athletes know more about the length of the head coach’s contract with the school. The chances of a coach with only one year left on his or her contract staying at a school for four years is far less than a coach in the middle of a long-term deal.


Graduation Rate:  Each Division I team’s graduation rate is submitted to the NCAA by the school and is posted at NCAA.org. Unfortunately, the NCAA does not provide the same information for Division II and III schools.  Instead, the NCAA provides general student graduation rates, which are only projections.  Moreover, many Division II and Division III teams have graduation rates that are higher than those for the overall student body.  In this survey, no Division II or Division III schools are awarded points for this factor because the information is unavailable. In the future, however, schools that post team graduation rates online will benefit.

Academic Progress Rate (APR): Each team’s Academic Progress Rate is submitted to the NCAA by the school and posted on the NCAA.org website. This rate reflects how student athletes are progressing toward receiving a diploma in their desired major on a term by term basis.

Diversity of Player Academic Majors:  There is considerable evidence that some schools steer players into only one or two majors. Even more troubling is evidence that some schools discourage players from taking academically challenging courses or courses that interfere with the athletic schedule, practice, training, and travel. This factor credits those programs that encourage or enable athletes to major in courses of their own choosing.

Scholarship Effectiveness (Division I and II only): Utilizing ACPA’s own scholarship shortfall calculations, teams are awarded points based upon their commitment to ensure that an athletic scholarship actually does cover the cost of attending a school. Schools that undervalue their scholarships by inflating the fees included in the “other category” will receive a lower score than schools that have taken steps to ensure that a full athletic scholarship will not result in an athlete owing the school a large amount of money upon graduation. The “other category” is submitted by each school to the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics on an annual basis.

Treatment of Athletes

*Clearly Defined Healthcare Policies: While some schools claim to cover the medical costs of students injured during school sports, many of these policies are not published or printed in a manner that allows  prospective student athletes to understand what kind of protections are being offered. Even more problematic, many schools apply student athlete health care policies on a case by case basis, making it impossible for a student athlete to know in advance how he or she will be treated. It is our hope that schools will standardize their healthcare policies and ensure those injured playing for their school will be given the opportunity to remain in school with their scholarship (if applicable) and any medical costs related to that injury will be fully covered by the institution while that student completes his or her degree within four (4) years and for two (2) years following that student athletes graduation.

*Policy on continued scholarship for permanently injured student athletes: Too often, student athletes who are permanently injured playing a sport also lose their scholarship. They are then left with no choice but to drop out of school if loans or other ways of paying for attendance are unavailable.  The APCA believes that any student who is permanently injured while playing a sport should be allowed to complete his or her education without penalty.

*Additional Transfer Restrictions: According to DI, DII and DIII bylaw 14.5.1, any student athlete who transfers from one collegiate institution to another NCAA sanctioned institution is required to complete one full year of academic residence before being eligible to compete for their new school. Unfortunately, different schools have different policies about transfers. Some schools refuse or delay providing the student athletes formal release. Others try to limit where a student can transfer, excluding schools within their conference and within close proximity to their institution. The APCA would hope that the NCAA will eventually remove the one year ineligibility for student athletes that transfer. But, the additional restrictions a school would place on a student athlete interested in transferring should not be permitted. Therefore, if a school has, or intends on placing additional restrictions on a student athlete interested in transferring, it should make those conditions available to prospective student athletes. If not, student athletes should not be concerned with experiencing additional restrictions or delays from their athletics department when trying to transfer.

*Due Process Afforded to Student Athletes accused of NCAA violations: While many schools have an athlete or student code of conduct, which ensures students athletes the same due process rights given to other students, very few honor this promise out of fear of possible NCAA retaliation.  Players are penalized, without any chance to have their case heard before an independent panel.  The APCA feels that student athletes should be treated the same as other students.   For example, if a student is accused of cheating on a test or plagiarizing, that student should be allowed to present a case before a committee commonly comprised of their peers and members of the school’s faculty and staff before being penalized.  Students should not be denied the same opportunity and protections enjoyed by other students simply because they play a sport.

*Offering four (4) year scholarships instead of one (1) year (Division I and II only): Every school that offers athletic scholarships has the option to provide four year athletic scholarships. Given the limited number of scholarships a school can provide for any given team, as well as the need for the student athlete to perform a the superior level on the playing field, most schools only offer scholarships on a year-by-year basis. This practice completely discredits the oft repeated myth that schools are not taking advantage of students on scholarship because these athletes are getting a degree in exchange for playing a sport.  Despite recruiting promises to the contrary, the only way most student athletes can obtain a degree is by performing at an elite level throughout their entire athletic career.  Fortunately, some schools have begun changing their policies and now offer four year scholarships, increasing the chances that a student will succeed not only athletically but academically.