Academic Disincentives Coming Closer

By Staff

Coaching Management, 12.10, November 2004,

With the NCAA’s Division I academic reform package of incentives and disincentives adopted, sanctions against teams and institutions that fail to measure up could be assessed as early as the next academic year. But before any figurative penalty flags fly, a roster full of details has to be hashed out.

At the heart of the package are the graduation success rate (GSR) and the academic progress rate (APR). The GSR is designed to measure how many scholarship athletes on individual teams and school-wide are earning degrees as compared to teams in their sport at other schools and the overall student population on their own campus. The APR is designed to gauge student-athletes’ progress toward a degree while in school. Cut-offs that would trigger punishments are to be announced after the end of the 2004-05 academic year.

Also to be determined are the incentives and disincentives themselves. Ideas discussed for failings in the GSR have come to be known by the NCAA as "historical penalties," a term that reflects a failure to meet standards over time. Ideas proposed so far include reductions in scholarships, limits on recruiting, ineligibility for bowl games and NCAA championships, and even restrictions on a school’s status as an Association member. APR failings are known as "contemporaneous penalties" and are likely to include loss of the ability to award a new scholarship when a student-athlete loses academic eligibility.

Overseeing this process is a committee formed when the Management Council and Board of Directors adopted the reform package in April. The Committee on Academic Performance (CAP) largely took over the job from the Management Council Working Group on Incentives/Disincentives, which was led by Todd Turner, then Director of Athletics at Vanderbilt University and now Athletic Director at the University of Washington. The CAP is chaired by University of Hartford President Walter Harrison.

When the CAP met with the Working Group this past summer to review where things stood, several other details were raised:

• There may be a need to account for varied academic calendars. The NCAA staff was directed to develop ways to handle the differences, which may include weighting scores and establishing different cut-off scores for each type of calendar.

• How to include walk-on student-athletes. The legislation adopted refers to "scholarship student-athletes."

• In a related matter, the CAP is developing a way to review academic performance at institutions that do not offer athletic financial aid and how to define "recruited student-athlete."

• An idea under study is having institutions who’ve been issued warning letters—the first step toward a penalty—develop and implement an academic recovery plan.

• The CAP will discuss in 2005 whether to have penalties follow coaches who change institutions.

• Just what rewards there might be for institutions or teams whose student-athletes excel is under review. Previously floated ideas included extra scholarships.

Despite the number of details still to be resolved, some clear implications have emerged for football coaches and their student-athletes at all levels. Coupled with previous academic reform measures that required student-athletes to take more core courses in high school and make steady and substantial progress toward a degree once in college, the stakes are higher for players aspiring to reach the next level.

Especially under pressure are two-year college programs and any high school athletes considering them. To transfer to a four-year school and play immediately as a junior, a student has to have completed 40 percent of the coursework required to earn a degree at the new school. That’s the same continuing-eligibility standard as for student-athletes who started at a four-year school, but a huge jump from the previous transfer requirement, which was 25 percent of degree requirements or 24 transferable credit units, along with having been at the two-year college for two full-year terms. In other words, as soon as they leave high school, athletes need to pick a major that will be able to transfer to a four-year school they hope to eventually attend.

"We have to do a better job at the two-year-college level, and even at the high school level, although it’s unfortunate that we’ll have to force these kids into a major," says Evans Roderick, Academic Counselor for Student-Athletes at California’s Mount San Antonio College and chairman of the Committee on Two-Year Colleges of the National Association of Academic Advisers for Athletics. "Or we’ll have to get them really working on the exploration so they can make a decision what their major might be."