Clemson Back on Level Playing Field

CLEMSON – Chalk this one up to the power of the people. Due largely in part to severe criticism by alumni, fans, board of trustees and even state senators, the admission policies and standards for prospective Clemson student-athletes have been changed.

The public outcry and an internal review led Clemson Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Dori Helms come to the realization that the playing field for recruiting wasn't level and that the academic qualifying guidelines were far and away too rigid.

Though she and the school's initial intentions were held in good faith, Helms said Friday afternoon that they were misplaced.

"It was right-hearted and wrong-headed," she said of the stringent measures the Athletic Admissions Review Committee (AARC) had put in place. "I think we would have probably asked to review this process had there not been a public outcry, but certainly this was a piece that pushed us to do it and to really examine it."

Under the new guidelines, teams will be able to sign recruits to National Letters of Intent (NLOI) even if he or she hasn't yet qualified academically. That student-athlete then will be given the rest of their senior year to do so.

If the recruit doesn't qualify, they will be allowed to go to prep school or junior college and then once they do qualify, the review process by the AARC will once again be given.

"It allows our coaches to continue to recruit and issue the NLOI before an admissions decision is made," Clemson athletics director Terry Don Phillips said. "That's the practice of other universities, so that's a very important step."

This past football signing day, at least two recruits were denied the right to sign NLOIs because of their academic issues. One of those students then signed with another institution within the ACC, which led to the complete meltdown by the coaches and fans.

"I didn't see that type of reaction over two people not admitted coming," Helms admitted. "There are lots of other schools that have turned down two, three, four or five. I think it was the timing of their turndowns that created the problem for us and created the outcry.

"Remember, when we did this, none of these people were NCAA qualified yet. Some of them will not get into the schools that they signed with, because they won't be NCAA qualified in the end. But I think the timing is what caused the major reaction and it made us really look at that first."

Another major plus for the athletic programs is that they will be basically judged on their own merit. A measuring stick of sorts will be used to determine whether or not a recruit who is academically suspect will be granted admission into the school.

It works like this:

Each Clemson athletic program will be judged solely against that same sport from public universities in the ACC and SEC.

The AARC will combine that program's graduation success rate (GSR) and academic progress rate (APR) and compare that to the median from the same programs from public schools in the two conferences.

If the program has a better number than the median from the two conferences, like Clemson's football team, then that program is likely to get the recruit in question. If it is at or below the median rate, then that program likely won't be able to admit that recruit.

"Our coaches feel very good about this process," Phillips said. "They know where they stand with their APRs and their GSRs. They know there is going to be flexibility afforded to them. And they feel good that they know they can go out and recruit very aggressively."

In layman's terms, the better the graduation rates and academic success of each program, the more borderline prospects it can sign.

"Basically, we're reaping what we've sown," said new football recruiting coordinator Billy Napier. "I think coach (Tommy) Bowden has done a great job in the leadership role in recruiting the type of player that can be successful here.

"We're looking forward to going on the road and recruiting the types of players that will lead us to an ACC Championship. Regardless of what the requirements are, winning the ACC Championship is still our goal."

Helms also admitted that raw academic numbers and data don't always tell the story of a prospective student.

"The other thing that you can't tell from looking at a transcript is desire on the part of the person, tenacity, the drive to do something," Helms said. "That's not in their scores. We can bring in a student with 1,500 SATs and at the end of the first year, they're in trouble. We can bring in a student with a low SAT and at the end of the first year, they're just fine. And a lot of that has to do with the desire of that person to learn and to get an education and that's not on that transcript."

Phillips believes this sort of measuring stick and admissions process will become a widespread practice.

"To the best of my knowledge, we're the first to incorporate that into our admission process," he said. "But I think that's going to be a natural progression where you'll see with other programs. These are very solid metrics."

But it is also important to keep in mind that just because a recruit meets NCAA qualifications doesn't automatically ensure they will still gain acceptance into Clemson.

"This is not a carte blanche situation where everybody out there that is NCAA qualified is going to get in regardless," Phillips said. "That's not the situation. There are going to be reviews by the admissions director. The significant difference is they're going to be reviewed in context of the performance of a potential program."

The AARC is staying intact, but there will be an athletic department liaison on the committee. However, that person will not get a vote in the process, but rather will be able to voice the athletic department's opinion.

"The best thing about this process is that we have opened up a conversation between athletics and academics the likes of which I don't think really have existed before," Helms said. "I even know what (Phillips) takes in his coffee now. It's been a very terrific learning experience, I think, on the academic side and also on the athletic side.

"I think it's important to continue making sure that a combined group of people from the academic world and the athletic world make sure that we continue to have a level playing field in recruiting field in athletics as well as protecting the academic integrity of the institution.

"This is not the end of this. This is just the beginning of something that I think will truly make One Clemson, One Clemson."

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