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NCAA Considering Changes to New Initial Eligibility Standards

At its January meeting, the NCAA Board of Directors discussed alternatives to the new initial eligibility standards coming in 2016. The Committee on Academic Performance discussed eight options, but eventually forwarded three to the Board of Directors for more discussion. One alternative do not change the end results of the changes, but may change how they are implemented beginning in 2016. One idea would make them easier on athletes, while another would make earning the required GPA even harder.

The ongoing discussion is related to fending off what may be a large number of athletes not being eligible when the new standards kick in. Right now, 0.5% of current athletes were nonqualifiers. 15.4% of athletes would be either nonqualifiers or academic redshirts under the new standards, including 40% of men’s basketball players and almost 35% of football players (currently 2.8% and 1.1% respectively). A significant gap between minority and white athletes would also persist.

As a quick reminder, to compete as a freshmen, athletes will need to earn a minimum 2.300 GPA, with a GPA approximately .500 points higher for a given test score. Athletes will also need to pass and use the grades from 10 classes prior to senior year. Prospects who meet the current standards, but not the new standards, will be permitted to receive a scholarship and practice, but will need to redshirt as freshmen.

Alternative 1: Split Effective Dates

Under alternative one, all of the rules except the increased sliding scale would become effective as planned on August 1, 2016. That includes the 10 courses before senior year and 2.300 minimum GPA. The new sliding scale would not become effective until August 1, 2018, two years later than currently planned. That means an athlete enrolling in Fall 2016 would need a minimum 2.300 GPA, but would need the same test score for a given GPA as he or she does right now.

Eventually, the higher standards would kick in. But the delay would give the NCAA two more years to educate prospects and high schools about the biggest of the coming changes. The goal is not to ensure that the same percentage of athletes meet the new standards as the current ones. The goal is to make sure that no athlete fails to meet the standards because they or their high school were not aware of the new standards.

Alternative 2: Intermediate Sliding Scale/Minimum GPA

Under the second alternative, the sliding scale would be increased on August 1, 2016, but only half as much. For a given test score, athletes would need a GPA .250 points higher than using the current scale. All of the other rules would also kick in for Fall 2016 as planned. The intermediate scale would be watched for two to three years to see if it achieved enough or if the scale needed to be increased by the full half-GPA point.

Under this change, 9.2% of current student-athletes would have been academic redshirts or nonqualifiers. 28.4% of men’s basketball players and 22.3% of football players would not have met the intermediate standard. So still a significant number of revenue sport athletes, but not the almost half or one-third as in the existing proposal. That number would also come down some, just as expected if there is no change to the coming standards.

An alternative to the alternative would only increase the minimum GPA, but would not change the sliding scale. This is like what would happen in 2016 under the split effective dates idea, just permanently. Only 2.4% of current athletes, 8.4% of men’s basketball players, and 5.2% of football players failed to earn a 2.300 GPA, much lower numbers than any change to the sliding scale would produce.

Alternative 3: Strengthen Core Course GPA Calculation

Currently athletes are required to pass 16 core courses, but may use additional courses to increase their GPA. Under this alternative, athletes would only be able to use 16 core courses toward their GPA calculation, even if they have completed more. Any additional courses would replace lower grades, but only if they fit into the distribution (i.e. the required number of English, math, science, and social science credits).

This would make it somewhat harder to for athletes to meet the minimum GPA and sliding scale. How much is unknown, but it would be significant given that this is on top of the 10 core courses before senior year that will be locked in starting in 2016. An athlete’s maximum GPA, as calculated by the NCAA, will be capped entering his or her senior year, since they will only be able to add six credits to the calculation.

Any or even some combination of all of these ideas could be adopted by the NCAA. The Board of Directors will hear more from the Committee on Academic Performance in April 2013. CAP is stressing for a resolution by then in order to get the word out and to end speculation about changes. So if any edits to the new standards are coming, they will be sooner rather than later.

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