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Coach Tod Kowalczyk and his University of Toledo men's basketball players continue to get burned by fires they didn't start. Once again, it's poor academic performance.
The school announced Wednesday that its appeal to overturn a postseason ban for next season was fruitless, a painful reminder of the neglect the program endured before coach Kowalczyk arrived two years ago.
In denying UT's request, the NCAA exercised its power under a new rule that requires athletic programs to achieve one of two Academic Progress Rate thresholds to be eligible for postseason play. UT's four-year score of 869 falls below the 900 minimum and its two-year score of 917 doesn't satisfy a 930 requirement.
Additional penalties include a reduction of practice time by one day and four hours per week and a loss of three regular-season games -- two of which were expected to be at home. Per its policy, the Mid-American Conference is following the NCAA's lead and barring UT from participating in the league tournament.
Twelve months ago, the program was docked three scholarships for the academic shortcomings of Kowalczyk's predecessors, Gene Cross and Stan Joplin. The current penalty is for the same reason.
It was to no avail that Kowalczyk and a "caravan" of UT representatives twice met with NCAA officials in recent months to present their case that current team members and coaches should not be penalized for a matter that preceded their arrival.
Kowalczyk, who produced sterling APR scores as Green Bay's coach, posted a 939 at UT in 2010-11, his first at the school. Last season's team, which won 19 games and advanced to the second round of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, projects to score 980, a nearly perfect mark that will not be reflected until one year from now. The NCAA's Committee on Academic Performance will meet this month and again in July to discuss whether to use 2011-12 data in determining punishments. If they choose to do so, UT will be in the clear. Its postseason ban will be lifted.
"But CAP is not expected to make any changes that could affect teams facing a postseason restriction next season," an NCAA spokesman said.
Surprisingly, given the events of Wednesday, Kowalczyk said he's a "big believer" in the APR and its intent, but "penalizing individuals who weren't a part of a problem is not the right way to do it." Kowalczyk's APR in 10 years as a head coach, including projections for this year, is 957.
Seniors-to-be Dominique Buckley and Curtis Dennis indicated they will not exercise an option granted to them by the NCAA permitting their transfer to another institution without being forced to sit out next season. Moving on would be a risk because if UT is ultimately reinstated, Buckley and Dennis will be forced to sit out at their new schools, effectively ending their careers.
"This is not going to weigh on my decision to leave or not," Buckley said. "I'm going to be here."
Added Dennis: "I expect to be here. I have great confidence in the school and their decision to get the postseason ban appealed."
On a positive front, the three scholarships the NCAA revoked last year have been returned.
UT used one of them Wednesday to sign Loyola (Md.) transfer Justin Drummond, a 6-foot, 4-inch sophomore wing who was named sixth player of the year in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. He scored four points before fouling out in 15 minutes of a loss to Ohio State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Drummond, originally from Bowie, Md., averaged 10.7 points and 3.9 rebounds. He'll have two seasons of eligibility left after sitting out next season because of transfer rules.
Connecticut is in a situation similar to UT, having been banned from the postseason. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Rep. John Larson, both Connecticut Democrats, told the Associated Press recently the system "often appears arbitrary and unfair" because its penalties are retroactive and harm people who aren't responsible for the low scores.
The APR is a convoluted formula designed to measure success in eligibility and retention. In short, points are deducted when academically ineligible players transfer or are dismissed.
UT scored 826 in 2007-08 -- Joplin's final season -- and 813 in Cross' first year. That dreadful mark, Cross said, was in part because two of three seniors he inherited did not graduate. Three other players transferred and had grade-point averages below 2.6, a threshold needed to avoid losing points.
Cross, who resigned after two rocky seasons, believes he was "falsely painted" as a coach who didn't emphasize academics. The team GPA when he arrived was about 1.0, he said, and improved to 2.9 by the end of the first semester of his second year. Four of his players were named to the Dean's List his final year and another to the President's List.
"For someone to say I didn't care about academics is patently false," Cross said.
Joplin did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.
Hanging above the desk in Kowalczyk's office at Savage Arena is a piece of paper listing an inspirational quote: ''Tough times don't last. Tough people do.''
That theory is being put to the test. Tough times, at UT, seem to be never-ending.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: email@example.com, or 419-724-6160.