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Football Nine Hour Rule Stays Quite Once Again

When the NCAA passed its new rule requiring football players to earn nine credits in the fall semester to be eligible for every game the following year, it was not surprising that not much was heard from it last year. Only one player might have missed the mark, and even that was debatable. But the rule included a one-time “get out of jail free” card if players earned 27 total hours by the start of the following season. Since last year was the first application of the rule, every football player in the country had his one-time exception available.

This year there should have been at least a few players who missed games due to their academic performance the previous fall. A number used their exception last year, which means they would only be able to get back two of the four games they were slated to miss. But once again it is hard to find players who were suspended under the rule. Here is one that might have been, but some of the details suggest not:

Tennessee State two-year starting quarterback Mike German has regained his academic eligibility and rejoined the football team but will not be allowed to play in the first two games.

Coach Rod Reed said it was his decision to sit German out.

German also sat out the spring. Reed saying it was his decision and German sitting out spring practice suggest the nine-hour rule was not the reason for this suspension. But it would be exactly the suspension one would expect for an athlete who did not meet the nine-hour rule the past two years. And it is hard to pinpoint exactly the issue giving the imprecise way many coaches talk about eligibility.

Earlier in the summer I asked this very question: would we see a significant number of suspensions from the nine-hour rule. If we did not, there were three possible explanations:

  • The rule worked perfectly and every football player passed nine-hours and was eligible after the previous fall;
  • Insitutions were hiding the suspensions, most likely as a “violation of team rules”; and/or
  • Coaches were simply kicking players who were going to be suspended off the team.

There is some support for the first explanation. In 2011–12, the first year that football players really had to worry about their eligibility in the fall, the eligibility component of APR for football rose to 945.8 from 937.9 the previous year. With fewer second chances available, it would not be surprising if that number went up again when 2012–13 APR numbers are released this spring.

If players are being kicked off teams, we should see two things. First, there should be a drop in retention scores in the APR. Players being kicked off the team and losing their scholarship would likely try and transfer somewhere else. Second is that next year we should see transfers who sat out this year but still need to sit out two or four games during the 2014 season. The suspension for missing the nine-hour rule follows an athlete if he transfers within Division I.

But if schools did not give up the reason for these suspensions, then it will be hard to tell whether the rule is working. The only indication might be a stagnant eligibility number in football’s APR. Only the NCAA would know for sure based on data reported in the Academic Performance Program.

If schools are not open about the impact of this rule, hopefully the NCAA will discuss it in the aggregate at the very least. If that does not happen, it will be hard for even NCAA members to evaluate whether the rule is working, whether it should be kept around, or whether the idea of sport-specific academic rules should be expanded.

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