TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Just one week after Florida A&M named Michael Smith interim Director of Athletics, the NCAA announced Academic Progress Report-related penalties against four Rattler teams.
The FAMU men's basketball and men's indoor and outdoor track teams are in Phase I of APR penalties, meaning reduced practice time and four additional hours of study hall or time-management classes. For the women's volleyball team, Phase II of penalties is worse. Along with those same Phase I penalties, the Lady Rattlers are ineligible for postseason competition in the 2013 season.
So much for Smith having time to get comfortable in his new role. Still, when asked about facing these penalties, he doesn't shrink from the question, but answers quickly and directly.
"It's going to take a concerted effort from our coaches, our students, our advisors, and our assistant director for academic and compliance to work close together to make sure that we are filling the voids that may exist for different students and different student athletes."
That process of multiple groups working together has already begun. Smith has reached out to and received feedback from other branches of Florida A&M, such as Academic Affairs, and formed a six-step corrective plan to address the academic failures in athletics. The plan is as follows:
1) Enhance the tutorial program by hiring staff with more specialized background in academically challenging subjects such as science and math.
2) Increase the frequency by which we receive academic progress reports. This will assist in identifying students who may have additional needs.
3) Expand the use of current academic playbook program. The program is designed to closely monitor those student athletes who are considered at-risk.
4) Conduct bi-weekly meetings with coaches and their at-risk student-athletes, along with FAMU Athletics' academic and compliance staff. These meetings serve as a tool to monitor the progress of those identified student athletes.
5) Allow tutors to travel with teams to competitions that have student-athletes away from campus 48 hours or more.
6) Incorporate an orientation program to assist transfer students with their transition to a university environment both academically and socially.
Smith says many of the above steps are already employed in some capacity, but they can be strengthened through better resources or by greater awareness among student athletes.
"What we know this process will accomplish for Florida A&M athletics," he says, "is we're going to make sure that our student athletes are getting the best advisement, tutorial opportunities, and making sure that the assessment of where those students are as they matriculate through the semester, that we're on top of that."
In total, 36 athletic teams from 17 different schools will receive APR related penalties from the NCAA. Out of those 17 schools, 11 are classified as HBCU, Historially Black Colleges and Universities.
Smith would not comment exactly as to why he thinks that trend exists.
"I'm sure they all feel the same way," he explains. "That they offer credible education for students and student athletes. I can tell you that Florida A&M University is one of the best and brightest Universities for educating young students across the country and across the world."
Though Smith may believe that sentiment, Florida A&M will have to fight to regain that reputation in the national spotlight as right now, they are in a group of 17 schools out of 228 total in Division I to receive academic penalties.
The NCAA measures APR on a rolling four-year period, so it could take the Rattlers several years to escape these penalties.