Penn State offensive lineman John Urschel. Photo: Penn Stater Magazine

A look at Penn State’s APR history and how the Big Ten stacks up

The NCAA released the latest APR scores for division one programs yesterday. Penn State’s football program posted a score of 954, the lowest by the football program since the NCAA started tracking the scores. Does this mean Penn State is doomed with the “Success With Honor” philosophy or is this merely a result of the NCAA sanctions? Let’s take a look and see what’s going on here…

Penn State APR by Year

Penn State APR Scores by Year. Source: NCAA

Penn State APR Scores by Year. Source: NCAA

The NCAA started tracking APR scores in 2004. Since that time, Penn State recorded its lowest score in the most recent report with a 954. As the line graph illustrates above, Penn State’s APR score has been trending downward and the point in time where we see the most significant changes is a notable one.

The impact of the NCAA sanctions levied against Penn State in the summer of 2012 looks to have had an impact due to the free transfer period, however it is possible Penn State could have received an adjustment to the APR scores based on the number of players that transferred out of the program. However, what impact might that have had? I let John Infante of The Bylaw Blog explain…


So is the whole “Success With Honor” mantra losing something over time, or this just a blip on the radar considering the extenuating circumstances brought on by the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the NCAA’s reaction to the findings? The APR scores for Penn State were already on a downward trend before November 2011, but Penn State has been doing well with graduation rates (tied for second among public FBS programs last October according to the NCAA). We hear and see plenty of the great success by offensive lineman John Urschel, which is fantastic, but his success may have been helping to distract from the downward trend developing in recent years.

As Penn State bounces back as the sanctions come to a close, it should be expected the APR scores will begin to trend the other way if all goes well.

How the Big Ten stacked up in APR

2012-2013 Big Ten Football APR Scores. Source: NCAA

2012-2013 Big Ten Football APR Scores. Source: NCAA

Northwestern, as expected in most years, led the Big Ten in football APR scores with a 991. Penn State had the lowest APR score among the existing Big Ten members, but Maryland will join the conference having scored the lowest in the APR scores in the most recent report. Rutgers has the third highest APR score in the bunch, scoring a 980.

The Big Ten did accumulate the highest average APR score compared to the other conferences though. Not including Rutgers and Maryland, the Big Ten averaged an APR score of 970. Keeping existing conference affiliations in place for the 2012-2013 average APR scores, the next highest average was recorded by the ACC with a conference average of 967. Coincidently, the average APR score for the Big Ten with Rutgers and Maryland added would still come out ahead of the changing ACC by roughly the same difference.

Among the power conferences in college football, the Big Ten and ACC continue to stand on top. The SEC is a relative distant third, followed by the Pac-12. The Big 12 is really hurting and trails the American and Mountain West Conference and is tied with the MAC with an average APR score of 949.

This bar chart shows the average APR scores by conference, rounded to the nearest whole number.

2012-2013 Average APR Scores by Conference. Source: NCAA

2012-2013 Average APR Scores by Conference. Source: NCAA

What about James Franklin?

The most important question for Penn State fans now, focusing on APR scores, is what will new head coach James Franklin do to reverse the trends mentioned above and keep Penn State in good academic standing. First it might be helpful to see what Vanderbilt has done in Franklin’s brief tenure as head coach.

Franklin coached three seasons at Vanderbilt, his first coming in 2011. When Franklin took over as head coach the Commodores were coming off the best APR average in program history, a 978. Vanderbilt had been slowly improving in APR scores each year from 2006. Vanderbilt’s APR score dropped five points in Franklin’s first year on the job to a 973, but ticked up one mark in his second season to a 974. We know Penn State is capable of reaching those numbers Franklin has seen as head coach, which is a positive sign. Penn State scored a 974 in 2009 and a 976 in 2008, a program best.

Franklin also does not have anywhere to go but up, and the future may look brighter as he takes over the program with roster stabilization becoming realistic and the sanctions set to expire within his first two years.

At a coaches caravan stop in Philadelphia on Wednesday Franklin made an emphasis on here he views the academic priorities at Penn State. He said the academics at Penn State rank just above his alma mater East Stroudsburg, and is followed by Harvard, Yale etc. It was coach speak of course, and coaches tend to have a way of saying things that will get a good reaction but if is half as serious as he can be charming, the Penn State should start seeing an immediate change in APR scores when the NCAA releases next year’s scores.

Source: NCAA APR Database
Photo: Penn Stater Magazine
Kevin McGuire

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to College Football Talk on NBCSports.com. Member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. College Football Hall of Fame voter. Also managing Bloguin's NittanyLionsDen.com and Macho-Row.com.

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