One SWAC football team won't be eligible to play in the Dec. 8 conference championship game for having a low Academic Progress Rate. Last year, two teams were ineligible.

One SWAC football team won’t be eligible to play in the Dec. 8 conference championship game for having a low Academic Progress Rate. Last year, two teams were ineligible.

While Arkansas-Pine Bluff can play for the championship, it’s facing the challenges of performing at acceptable APRs needed to avoid sanctions like other teams in the conference. The school made national headlines last month when its men’s basketball team was banned along with nine others — including SWAC rival Mississippi Valley State — from the 2013 NCAA tournament, a penalty UAPB hopes to reverse soon.

Along with that announcement came penalties for other athletic programs. Texas Southern, which has an APR of 811, is ineligible for the SWAC football title, a year after Southern and Jackson State suffered the same fate. Southern will lose 4.63 scholarships for scoring a 909, and Prairie View A&M will lose 4 hours of practice time each week this season after posting an 893.

The benchmark for each NCAA athletic program is 930. UAPB’s football team scored only a 928, but has improved in APR the last two years and managed to dodge penalties.

“The first thing I’ve done is I’ve made each coach accountable for their positions, so if you’re the quarterbacks coach, you’re responsible for making sure the quarterbacks are getting out of bed, going to class,” UAPB coach Monte Coleman said. “You’re tracking them in study hall and you’re doing everything you need to do to make sure they’re matriculating. And it’s the same way across the board.”

Coleman said he and his staff monitor athletes at risk of not being academically eligible closer than others.

Texas Southern has never scored higher than 879 since the APRs were first recorded after the 2004-05 school year. Its APR has dropped each of the last three years, leading to a cut of 14.78 scholarships in 2011 and the firing of coach Johnnie Cole, who had guided the Tigers to the 2010 SWAC title. Kevin Ramsey served as interim coach last fall.

“I had an idea we would be (penalized),” said Darrell Asberry, who was hired as the Tigers’ new coach in December. “We tell the kids we’ve got to keep moving forward. We can only control what we do on the football field, and we control the classroom.”

Prairie View’s Heishma Northern and Southern’s Stump Mitchell said their teams’ penalties won’t hurt much. Northern said Prairie View usually does not reach the maximum of 20 hours of football activity per week (including an automatic 3 hours for each game), and Southern has not reached the full Football Championship Subdivision allotment of 63 scholarships according to Mitchell.

“The way we practice is very fast. It can be very taxing on our players’ bodies,” Northern said. “We’re going to take a day off at the end of the week. We’re going to practice Mondays through Wednesdays, take Thursday off and let our guys get some rest and have a walk-through on Fridays. A lot of times, we didn’t use all of our hours, so it doesn’t hurt us anyway. The longest we practice is 2 hours.”

Northern also said Prairie View will have study hall during practice time.