NCAA’s Easing of Eligibility Standards Concerns Some Professors

The NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors announced on Thursday that it was rolling back one of several changes in the association’s new initial-eligibility requirements for freshman athletes, a move that is drawing concern from some faculty members.

First proposed in the fall of 2011, the changes were designed to stiffen the academic requirements for incoming athletes, including raising the minimum grade-point average and corresponding standardized-test scores, and sharpening the rules governing core courses in high school. Players who failed to meet the new standards, which are set to go into effect in 2016, could have to sit out their first year of competition.

But based on the board’s action on Thursday, fewer of those low-performing athletes are likely to have to sit out.

While the board approved a requirement for an increased grade-point average (to 2.3 from 2.0) and stiffer rules for core courses, it jettisoned a tougher “sliding scale” that would have required players with lower grades to have higher test scores if they wanted to compete during their first year.

Several groups—including the NCAA’s Academic Cabinet, the Faculty Athletics Representatives Association, and faculty reps in the Football Bowl Subdivision—had supported the tougher test-score standards for defining the academic redshirt. The NCAA’s Committee on Academic Performance also wanted a tougher sliding scale, but not one as tough as those other groups favored.

Under the original proposal, players with a 2.3 grade-point average would have needed a 1080 on the SAT or a 93 on the ACT to be eligible for first-year competition. Now players with a 2.3 GPA will need a 900 on the SAT or a 75 on the ACT.

On Friday, some members of those groups expressed concern over the board’s move.

“With all that vetting and support from the faculty, there’s always a concern when the board does something else,” said Josephine R. Potuto, a professor of law and the faculty athletics representative at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. “There’s a perception that there’s a disconnect at the board level from what’s going on everywhere else.”

The board was concerned that a tougher sliding scale would have disproportionately affected certain athletes, including minority students and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, who often don’t score well on standardized tests. The board also cited the overall improved academic performance of athletes, including better Academic Progress Rates, in rolling back the stiffer test-score requirement.

When the change was announced, in 2011, the NCAA said that some 40 percent of big-time basketball players at the time would have failed to meet the higher bar for first-year competition. That upset coaches, who have lobbied against the tougher requirements.

It’s still possible the tougher sliding scale could be used. But some faculty members say it may be better to wait to see if it’s necessary before putting it in place.

“There are a lot of things going on, and there is some wisdom in ‘Let’s do some of this and see where it goes,’” said Stephen Perez, a professor of economics at California State University at Sacramento and a member of the executive committee of the Faculty Athletics Representatives Association. “We’ve already raised the GPA and increased standards for transfer students. If you hold back on some of it, I don’t know if that’s the worst outcome in the world.”

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