Rebels football:

UNLV football accepts blame yet still defiant in face of NCAA’s postseason ban

NCAA denies UNLV’s appeal and sanctions the program for failing to meet the Academic Progress Rate standard

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L.E. Baskow

UNLV Athletic Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy responds to a question during a press conference on the NCAA postseason ban, Thursday, April 10, 2014.

UNLV Postseason Football Ban

UNLV Head Football Coach Bobby Hauck considers his response as part of a press conference at UNLV regarding their NCAA postseason football ban on Thursday, April 10, 2014. Launch slideshow »

Heart of Dallas Bowl

UNLV quarterback Caleb Herring walks off the field after failing to convert on fourth down late in the fourth quarter against North Texas during the Heart of Dallas Bowl Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. North Texas won 36-14. Launch slideshow »

With the NCAA’s decision made, UNLV football was simultaneously angry and disappointed with the Academic Progress Rate failings that will keep the Rebels from competing in any postseason play this year.

The bottom line, whether the Rebels agree with the system or not, is that UNLV is the first FBS-level program to face a postseason ban under the NCAA’s APR requirements.

“It was like a kick in the groin,” said senior offensive lineman Brett Boyko. “The biggest thing that bothers everybody is that 96 percent of the guys in the locker room had nothing to do with it. That’s the hardest thing to deal with.”

As the public learned a couple of weeks ago, sources said the program knew it was likely going to come up short of the NCAA’s new standard for APR scores. Programs must now record a four-year score of 930. Student-athletes are awarded a maximum of four points each year; one point each semester for enrolling and another point each for remaining eligible.

The score is then tabulated and weighted to a maximum score of 1,000. One previous standard required a score of 925, which is exactly where the Rebels say their four-year score fell.

UNLV has responded by putting approximately $250,000 into academic resources that include the creation of two hands-on positions in academic support, a new APR Committee to oversee strategies and policies for all UNLV athletic programs and the retention of a consulting firm led by a former NCAA director of academic services.

“No one is making excuses here,” said Athletic Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy.

Well, not quite.

The NCAA on Thursday informed the Rebels that it was denying their final appeal to a subcommittee. The point of that appeal, Kunzer-Murphy said, was that even though the score was short of the standard, there were extenuating circumstances that prohibited the Rebels from reaching 930.

“Our appeal was, ‘Hey, our university lost 700 faculty and staff positions during that time, and the academic advising was inconsistent,’ ” Kunzer-Murphy said.

She was referring to university cutbacks during the reporting period that started with the 2009-10 school year and concluded in 2012-13. While the NCAA understood, Kunzer-Murphy said, it was not willing to grant an exception.

The sanctions handed down include:

• No postseason play in 2014, including the Mountain West title game

• Four hours of weekly practice must be used instead on four hours of academic activities, which coach Bobby Hauck said UNLV already did

• Five days of football-related activities per week instead of six

The news certainly wasn’t surprising. Not to fans who braced for the worst after reading about the forthcoming sanctions a couple of weeks ago. And not to those involved such as Hauck, who said they’ve “been chasing these APR points since 2011.”

Still, Hauck, Kunzer-Murphy and President Don Snyder were all adamant that Thursday was the first time they knew for certain that UNLV was guaranteed to not make a second straight bowl trip.

Kunzer-Murphy pushed through a raise and extension for Hauck while this APR process was ongoing. Hauck was entering the final year of his contract before the Board of Regents approved a two-year extension paying $700,000 annually in late January, which is the same time Kunzer-Murphy said the waiver and appeals process started with the NCAA.

“I don’t know what I could have told them,” Kunzer-Murphy said of the regents. “We couldn’t have told them we knew our numbers. We were working through the numbers. … The most important thing was to secure our coach. The Board of Regents are up to speed on it and I’m sure we’ll be talking about that at the next regents’ meeting. And I’m prepared to answer those questions to them.”

UNLV was able to find additional APR points through things like delayed graduation credits, but no matter how much it searched it couldn’t get the number up to snuff. It’s a small distinction, 925 to 930, but it’s one UNLV must accept.

“I take it as a personal failure,” Hauck said.

But that doesn’t mean he thinks the NCAA’s process is flawless.

Hauck said he could point to a former player walking on campus who now has a degree but at one time cost the program an APR point. The goal should be to graduate your players, he said, not to have to manipulate the system to achieve the desired score. Either way, he maintained that having one unified set of standards for every program removes the nuance to correctly and fairly judge a program.

“Anytime you try to legislate (academics) it becomes an albatross, and through good intentions it can become disastrous,” Hauck said. “For us, APR is a disaster.”

After three straight two-win seasons, Hauck and the Rebels finally broke through in 2013 with a 7-6 season that included a loss in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. It was the team’s first trip to the postseason since 2000 and only the fourth in program history.

Hauck tried to soften the blow by saying that the lack of possible bowl game should affect only the fans who were planning on making the postseason trip. And to Dallas not many traveled.

“We need to rework the goals, but frankly most of the goals that we have as a football team are still there for us,” Hauck said.

However, that doesn’t capture the full picture of the momentum this derails. The uphill battle to sell tickets, which is the best growth area for the department to balance its books, just got a lot harder.

Possibilities interest even pessimists, and this ban places a lower ceiling on the 2014 season.

According to UNLV’s calculations, 96 percent of the current football roster has never negatively affected the program’s APR score. As is usually the case, this is the present paying for the sins of the past. It’s nothing new, especially under the NCAA’s thumb, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow for a guy like Boyko, the Rebels' second-team all-conference left tackle.

The NCAA’s rules allow any seniors on a team hit with an APR ban to apply for a waiver making them exempt from sitting out a year at another Division I program. There may be some departures, but Boyko won’t be one of them. He begrudgingly understands if some guys want to leave, although the opposite seems to make more sense to him.

We came in together, he said, and the NCAA can’t change that.

“We love this school,” Boyko said. “We’re going to stay together.”

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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