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NCAA Seeks to Reverse Initial Eligibility Standards for Division II

According to the NCAA, since 1986, Division II institutions have utilized an initial academic eligibility rule under which, incoming Division II student-athletes must have at least an 820 SAT score and 2.0 GPA to be considered a “qualifier.”  This standard is notable, because it contradicts with the eligibility standard for Division I.  Since 1992, Division I has utilized a sliding scale to determine a prospective student-athlete’s initial eligibility.  Currently, Division II is considering a proposal which would adopt a similar sliding scale system to determine a prospective student-athlete’s initial eligibility.

Notably, under the proposal, Division II is considering adopting a sliding scale under which a 2.2 core GPA qualifies a prospective student-athlete for initial eligibility.  Adoption of this measure would arguably signal a move in the right direction for the Division II membership, as it depicts a willingness to demand higher academic standards for its student-athletes.

The proposal will similarly promote academic success by deeming some prospective student-athletes who would currently qualify for initial eligibility as “partial qualifiers.”  As noted above, the proposal suggests that a student-athlete have a keyed sliding scale score of a 2.2 GPA, considering his or her SAT/ACT test scores and GPA for high school core classes, to be deemed eligible.  Prospective student-athletes whose keyed sliding scale score coincides with a 2.0 to 2.19 GPA will be deemed “partial qualifiers.”

In Division II, a “partial qualifier” can practice with its team at its home facility and receive athletically related financial aid during his or her first year of college.  However, a “partial qualifier” cannot compete in athletics during their first year of college.  Arguably, because the “partial qualifier” student-athlete does not participate in competitions, he or she has a greater amount of time to focus on studies and thus, a better chance of graduating college.  Studies indicate that a student’s high school GPA is one of the greatest indicators for graduating college.  Thus, deeming a greater number of incoming student-athletes “partial qualifiers” may help boost Division II’s graduation rates.

Along with promoting higher academic standards, the NCAA asserts that moving to a sliding scale model would allow for more minority student-athletes to be deemed academically eligible.  According to the NCAA, under its current rule, 6.2 percent of prospective Division II student-athletes are academically ineligible under initial eligibility standards.  Of that number, 13.8 percent are minorities.  By adopting a sliding scale, the NCAA asserts that number will decrease by one percent to 12.8 percent for minorities.

What, then, does this mean to potential Division II recruits?  While adoption of the proposal will arguably create greater opportunities to be deemed initially eligible for Division II athletics, it will also put stricter requirements on potential student-athletes.  This is due to the increase of the initial eligibility standard to the 2.2 keyed GPA.  However, it will likely create greater flexibility for determining eligibility, as prospective student-athletes with lower GPAs can rely upon higher SAT/ACT test scores to be deemed initially eligible.  Thus, student-athletes with GPAs close to or below 2.2 may want to focus heavily on SAT/ACT test preparation courses in an effort to achieve the highest possible score and increase their chances of initial eligibility.

While the NCAA touts academic success and greater inclusion of minorities as reasons for adoption of the proposal, another beneficial reason exists for their adoption.  In recent years, NCAA president Mark Emmert and NCAA members have sought to streamline the NCAA’s bylaws.  Divisions I, II and III all have their own manuals, and some of their bylaws differ.  Adopting this model may make things simpler for the NCAA from an enforcement perspective, as it condenses the number of bylaws that differ between divisions.  Additionally, it may make things easier for prospective student-athletes with the talent to either go Division I or Division II, as they will only have to be familiar with the sliding scale eligibility model.  Potential student-athletes and their families should play close attention in the coming months to this proposal and whether Division II adopts it, as adoption of the proposal will impact the decision of initial eligibility for incoming student-athletes.

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