Academics to Affect Recruiting?

On October 31, the NCAA passed a package of reform measures designed to improve the graduation rates of Division 1 student-athletes. The NCAA received final approval with support by the NCAA Board of Directors. The new reform will have a direct bearing on academic qualifying for incoming student athletes and will take affect on August 1, 2003. This now gives college Presidents a legislative foothold to enhance graduation rates and minimize adverse impact on minorities.

The new academic model will set standards and academic profiles for student athletes by providing guidelines. If you don't meet the guidelines you will not be allowed to participate in college sports.

First things first, student athletes must qualify for college. In the new system, high school student-athletes will now be required to have 14 core classes, not 13 like in the old system. In addition, each student-athlete has to maintain a 2.000 grade point average in those core classes. The "sliding scale" would also extend the relationship between the standardized test scores and the core course-GPA. This establishes a sliding scale that maintains a 2.000 grade point average cut but eliminates the test score cut.

What does this mean to college football recruiting? This will certainly have a great impact on recruiting classes. Each year, a small number college football prospects fail to qualify academically for the college they sign their letter of intent with. Most of the time, they then go to a two-year Junior College or Prep School. Now, most of these non-qualifiers, will be admitted to college.

Another proposal passed revises the percentages toward a degree for a student-athlete. Now, a student athlete must achieve at least 24 semester hours of academic credit to be completed before the student-athlete enters his second year. In addition, the student-athlete must complete 40% of their of their classes toward their degree by the end of year two, 60% by the end of year three, and 80% by year four. If they do not achieve this at any giving time, the student-athlete will be ruled ineligible.

The Board is concerned that reducing the significance of test scores would increase the risk of grade inflation at the high school level. But there is a checks and balance system in place with the progress toward degree standard (40/60/80). If prospects are admitted and had their grades inflated in high school, they would likely struggle with the new academic requirements once in college, as they work towards their degrees.

There is another little goody on the table at the NCAA called the Academic Progress Rate. The NCAA is trying to come up with a system that will provide a real-time snap-shot of a team's academic success. Teams will be rewarded or penalized based on how their student-athletes meet the academic requirements. So it will only behoove the college programs to admit student-athletes that will do the academic workload or else they will be held accountable.

This will not help all the colleges but it will certainly help the high school student-athlete. The Stanfords and Georgia Techs of the world will not benefit from this but it certainly helps college programs with minimum academic requirements. Schools like Stanford, Georgia Tech and Notre Dame have higher academic standards for their student athletes to begin with. In fact, Stanford's minimum academic requirement is a 3.0 GPA and 1100 SAT.

In the past, minorities in particular, have had issues with the standardized tests (SAT and ACT). Some believe these tests are culturally biased, and therefore, don't score as well. Before, there was a sliding scale with a direct correlation between the student-athletes grade point average and their standardized test score. For instance, if a student-athlete had a core GPA of 2.000 then they had to score at least a 1010 on the SAT or a 22 on the ACT. If a student-athlete had a core GPA of 2.5, then they had to score an 820 or 17.

This new legislation could be potentially vital for the prospect(s) with a low GPA (2.000), even though they complete the required core classes, that don't score well on the standardized test. As long as the necessary core classes are taken and passed, they will get into to college. Once they get into college, it is up to them, with the university's support system, to make sure they do the required things to stay eligible.

This could also be potentially detrimental to college football. There are many student-athletes that score poorly for a reason. Under the new reform, they will be admitted in college, even though they may not be able and ready to handle the academic work-load. That is why this system doesn't work for Stanford, Notre Dame and other institutions. They raise their academic standards for a reason. These schools want to accept student-athletes that they know can handle their academics.

The bottom line is that the NCAA made a move to help more student-athletes get into college. Will this system work in the long run? Maybe. Time will certainly tell. But with the importance of graduation rates on the forefront, this could be a step in the right direction. However, each university will be held more accountable than ever to make sure their student-athletes, whom they admitted in school, are doing to right things and maintaining their grades toward the ultimate goal – graduation.

Have we seen the end to this academic reform. Likely not. "What we did and what we have before us doesn't mean our work is finished," said Robert Hemenway, Board chair and chancellor of the University of Kansas in a press release from the NCAA. "We have asked for additional research on further increasing the number of high school core courses and I believe we will seriously consider increasing that number to 15 or 16. We also are examining models that will establish a new graduation success rate we strive to ever more accurately judge whom among those who participate in our athletics program actually graduate."

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