Academic Reform Rumbles Through

By Staff

Coaching Management, 12.6, August 2004, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1206/bbreform.htm

This fall, the next round of NCAA Division I academic reform rules will begin to take effect. They include the use of a new academic progress rate that can lead to penalties for programs with large numbers of athletes who lose eligibility, leave school, or don’t graduate. Reverberations are likely throughout all of college basketball, and for high schools with players who aspire to the next level.

The new annual academic progress rate (AAPR) will be determined as follows: Each student-athlete will earn a point for each semester of continuing eligibility and for each semester returning to school—four possible points a year for each player. At the end of each year, the AAPR will be calculated as a percentage of the points that a school could have earned if each athlete gained all four possible points. Meanwhile, degree completion will be calculated using a new Graduation Success Rate (GSR) that gives teams credit for transfers in and out and players who leave for the pro ranks in good academic standing.

AAPR and GSR will be compared against other Division I basketball teams, entire athletic departments throughout the Division, and the school’s overall student-body graduation rate. Programs would be penalized only if their numbers in all three comparisons fall below a standard the NCAA is still in the process of setting, called the "cut rate." These penalties may include scholarship reductions, limits on recruiting, and postseason tournament ineligibility. Although the cut rate and exact penalties have not yet been determined, athletic departments will be required to start keeping track of AAPR and GSR this fall.

In addition, starting in 2005-06, a scholarship could be cut for a year if an athlete on scholarship leaves in poor academic standing. The NCAA Board of Directors plans to review in two years whether this penalty should be tougher.

Division I coaches are already dealing with new continuing-eligibility rules that took effect for 2003-04. Student-athletes who entered school last fall must complete 40, 60, and 80 percent of their degree requirements by the beginning of their fifth, seventh, and ninth semesters respectively to stay eligible (up from 25, 50, and 75). And all student-athletes must now pass six credit hours each semester in order to play.

These rules follow the removal of a minimum standardized test score as an initial-eligibility requirement in favor of a sliding scale of test scores and high school grades. This may allow in more academically at-risk student-athletes—just as the stakes get higher for making sound progress once in school.

In many ways, academic reform may prove toughest on junior college student-athletes who hope to transfer to four-year institutions. To play immediately, transfers must have completed 40 percent of the coursework required to earn a degree at the new school, up from either 25 percent or 24 units. That means transfers must have a good idea of what they want to major in and what four-year school they want to attend almost as soon as they leave high school.

"Getting that 40 percent is going to be tricky," says Evans Roderick, Academic Counselor for Student-Athletes at California’s Mount San Antonio College and Chair of the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics’ (N4A) Committee on Two-Year Colleges. "You can need 120 units for a degree in psychology at one school, and it can be 125, 128, or 129 somewhere else," he says.

Many Division I schools are responding to the tougher standards by adding more freshman orientation programs, larger study halls, closer monitoring, and increased help for ill-prepared student-athletes. They are also looking for more help from coaching staffs.

"I can tell kids to do this and that, but if coaches don’t enforce it, it doesn’t happen," says Henry Villegas, Academic Coordinator for Intercollegiate Athletics at Indiana State University. "The coaches provide the discipline behind the things we do."

"For student-athletes who don’t buy in, who don’t have an attitudinal change about academic success, what will change their attitude right away is playing time," says Demetrius Marlowe, president of the N4A and Assistant to the Vice President for Student Affairs and Services at Michigan State University. "It’s what the student-athletes understand."

The best scenario, academic advisors say, is having a coach who buys into the importance of classroom success. "When coaches understand that they need to partner with their academic advisor, you start to build successful programs," says Marlowe.

Tim Carter, Head Men’s Basketball Coach at the University of Texas-San Antonio and a former NCAA enforcement investigator, says coaches also need to start recruiting more carefully. He plans to consult more closely with high school and junior-college people who know potential recruits.

"There are two things I ask a junior college or high school coach about a student-athlete: Does he go to class, and when he’s in class, do you get the impression that he cares? If the coach says, ‘He goes to class, but I don’t know how much he cares about an education,’ then I’m going in the other direction.

"If there’s a kid who’s really close, we’re going to talk to the teachers a little bit more than in the past," continues Carter. "We coaches may have talked to counselors before, but some of them are overworked. If you really want to do your due diligence, you’d better start talking to teachers and asking them about the student-athlete’s work ethic."

Details of the NCAA academic reform package can be seen at www.ncaa.org/releases/currentTopics/academicReform.html.