The University of Illinois graduates a high percentage of its football players. Every effort is made to help student-athletes earn degrees. A number of colleges have not been as diligent, forcing the NCAA to demand minimum standards of competence. The UI falls well above the cutoff point according to academic counselor Kristin Kane.
"The NCAA has implemented the APR rates, the graduation success rates for students. I think that's their way of trying to gauge year-to-year and blocks of time how universities are doing. Football has been well above the 925, which is the benchmark all schools need to have. We should feel good about that.
"It's been our focus for our students to get their degrees. Part of my job is working with their colleges to make sure they get done as quickly as possible.
"A lot of our guys will be here for a fifth year of football. Can we get them done in 3 and 1/2 years or 4 and 1/2 years so they're graduating the last semester they're playing? Then, if they want to try out for the NFL, they already have their college degree and they can do that."
A few star football players have been leaving school a year early for the National Football League. If they haven't graduated by then, they must maintain progress toward their degrees to prevent a bad mark for the UI. Every effort is made to help them know exactly what they need so they can eventually complete their degree work.
"That's a whole other phenomena we've been working with the last few years. With them, we put a plan in place before those guys left with exactly what they need. These are the things you might be able to take online or on a different campus that transfer back here. These are the things you're gonna have to come back to campus to take. We try as much as possible to get guys back to finish up classes."
There are a few instances where a football player falls behind academically and risks losing eligibility. Athletes must meet both NCAA and University guidelines for eligibility.
"They have to pass 18 hours in an academic year per the NCAA to be eligible. If you have a guy that only passes 6 hours in the fall semester, he has to pass 12 in the spring to be eligible. He should be able to do that. There's a number of rules like that we're watching.
"Sometimes, summer school can't help them make up eligibility. Certainly, students can take extra hours. It doesn't always work for them to take extra classes.
"The rule book is huge. There's a lot of stipulations that prevent people from doing things like they used to do where they would try to improve their GPA by going to a junior college and taking three classes there. You don't see that a whole lot any more.
"Typically, when a student's on campus and trying to regain eligibility, they're doing it on our campus. They have to take the classes and prove that they can do the work here."
Rules for eligibility are complex.
"The 18 hour rule is just one rule. They also have to meet 40% of their degrees, 60% of their degrees, 80% of their degrees every year. So if students are in a 120 hour curriculum, they have to have 24 hours after their freshman year and 48 hours after their sophomore year. 18 of the 24 hours have to be during the regular school year.
"The 18 hour rule prevents them from taking 10 hours in the summer in getting to that 40%. It prevents them from loading up on summer classes to regain eligibility."
Within limits, there are things they can do to regain full eligibility if they fall below these numbers.
"We look at two different things. The university has its own academic progress it looks at for students, and then the NCAA has its numbers. I can't remember a time when we had a student who wasn't NCAA eligible.
"Where we have had issues is where the students don't do what they're supposed to do in the classroom, and the university says, 'No more.' If a student has been on probation a couple semesters in a row... they have probation levels they have to meet in their college.
"If they don't, the college would be the one to say it's dropping them. You need to go someplace else for a year and then try to come back and get reinstated."
There are rumors some schools have certain professors who will give better grades to student-athletes than they deserve. Kane won't approach a professor in this manner; student-athletes must earn their degrees at Illinois.
"For us, that's an academic integrity thing. That's not our place. Our student-athletes have to be treated exactly how all other students are treated. They can't get those extra benefits from an instructor.
"There are times when instructors have said they are willing to let them take make-up tests, but we say, 'If you're not letting other students in the class do it, you can't let our students do it. It's my job to be honest and forthright about that with professors to make sure everyone knows we're not asking for that.
"Certainly, the athletes can always ask. But it's not something we're prompting them to do. It's not something that I would ever do. If we hear that a professor is allowing a student to do it, we make sure it is something they would let any student in the class do, and not just a student-athlete."
In the final segment of this interview, Kane talks about preparing student-athletes for life after college and her personal rewards for a job well done.
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