High School ADs Comment on Possible Core Course Increase

By Staff

Athletic Management, 14.5, August/September 2002, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1405/bbcorecourse.htm

Seeking to place a greater emphasis on academics, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors has resolved to consider a host of changes to initial-eligibility standards. Among those changes is increasing the number of core courses required for incoming freshman student-athletes by 2006.

Currently, 13 core courses are required, but the board may potentially increase that to as many as 16 courses. The final number will depend on research currently being conducted by the NCAA aimed at determining the optimum number of core courses.

Whatever the final number, high school athletic administrators are hoping the NCAA keeps them informed during the process. “Anytime the NCAA passes a rule that affects high schools, there has to be a lot of communication and understanding on their end,” says Sister Lynn Winsor, Athletic Director at Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix, Ariz. “They need to communicate with the National Federation instead of just imposing something on high schools.

“When the initial eligibility procedures were first introduced, I don’t think they were fully explained to high school athletic administrators,” she continues. “They came on us as a surprise and were difficult to deal with at the beginning, although now it’s smooth sailing.”

According to the Board of Directors’ resolution, the NCAA Academic Consultants (a group appointed by the Board in 2000 to review NCAA eligibility standards) has the responsibility of discussing with high school associations an analysis of the core courses, including the possibility of increasing the number to 16. “This time, there should be a few years to prepare for it, which would give time for an educational process for administrators,” Winsor says. “If they do this, that would make the whole system a lot easier than last time. Anything that can help the student-athlete is important, but we should know it early on in the process.”

Increasing the number of required courses doesn’t seem to be a large issue in itself. “I don’t have a problem with the NCAA increasing the core-course requirements,” says Wes Bergazzi, Athletic Director at Stafford High School in Falmouth, Va. “The focus always should be on academic achievement. So, if they increase those minimums, we just have to communicate them to everybody.”

But athletic directors note that increasing the number of required core courses means it’s important to educate student-athletes about NCAA initial eligibility as early as possible in their high school careers. “We’d have to talk to kids in ninth grade, because they might have to make some decisions early in their high school career,” says Bob Zell, Athletic Director at Braddock High School in Miami, Fla.

Zell’s biggest concern with increasing core-course requirements is that it would affect “those who are behind the eight-ball to begin with, before we can turn them around,” he says. “That could make it very difficult for some of them.

“We’re not looking for an easy way out,” Zell continues, “but these are just kids, and sometimes they’re not sure where they’re going or what they want to do. And it takes them a year or two to figure that out.”

That’s why Bergazzi stresses talking with the parents of incoming student-athletes. “I feel an obligation to let parents of freshmen know early on that these requirements are out there, and they need to be watching them if they want their kid to go to the next level,” he says. “Otherwise, all of a sudden, the student-athletes could be in their junior or senior year and realize they’re missing a requirement.”

In addition to parents, Bergazzi also tries to keep his guidance department and coaches in the loop. “Every October, the Virginia High School League offers a one-day seminar where they review clearinghouse regulations, and I and one of the guidance counselors attend to try to keep current,” he says. “Our coaches regularly talk to our kids about it, and I go over it in preseason meetings with the student-athletes and their parents.”

Education and communication seem to be the keys in making any successful changes to the initial-eligibility process. “There are so many kids who are very interested in scholarships these days, but they might not have all the information,” Winsor says. “So it’s up to the local athletic administrators to provide that for them. [The proposed changes are] going to alter the scope a bit of what students are going to have to take, so it’s up to guidance counselors and the athletic director, along with the parents, to make sure kids are getting their courses.”

The Board of Directors’ resolution also aims to: develop new ways beyond graduation rates to assess the academic progress of student-athletes on individual teams; explore incentives and penalties that reward or punish institutions depending on the academic progress of their student-athletes; and examine the impact of modifying the current initial-eligibility sliding scale.

For more information on the NCAA Clearinghouse and initial-eligibility standards, visit www.ncaa.org/eligibility/cbsa/.