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N.J. Districts Boost Academic Standards for Student-Athletes

Turns out Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive isn't the only one looking to increase the academic accountability of student-athletes these days. A number of New Jersey high schools caught the fever, too.

By the start of the 2014-15 school year, student-athletes at Teaneck public schools will need to maintain a 2.5 GPA if they hope to remain eligible for sports, according to The Record. Currently, those students must maintain only a cumulative 2.0 GPA (a C average) to participate in athletics.

"When you have something that is more rigorous than 2.0, you are really sending a message to these kids that the student athlete is synonymous," said Teaneck athletic director Todd Sinclair to the paper. "With a 2.0, you really can't make that argument because, let's be honest, it's not that great."

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association requires only that students stay on target to obtain enough credits to graduate, but they could be passing courses with straight D's and still meet NJSIAA standards.

Both Sinclair and Yvonne Sheard, athletic director for the Englewood schools, stressed to the paper that their increased academic requirements ultimately serve to benefit the athlete. (Englewood requires student-athletes to have a 2.0 GPA in the previous grading period to remain eligible for athletics.)

"The ultimate goal is to make sure students are eligible not just to play sports but to get into college," said Sheard. "No school is going to come look at you with a 1-point whatever, so the goal is to make them students first and athletes second."

A few other districts around the state have stricter academic requirements for student-athletes than the NJSIAA calls for. Clifton schools require student-athletes to obtain at least a 70 for a passing grade in each class, while any student-athlete in the Hackensack district with a GPA less than 2.0 must participate in a tutorial program.

The paper notes that a few local administrators were not in support of a minimum GPA for student-athletes. The administrators believe that athletics ultimately draws certain students to attend school, and fear that boosting academic requirements would push those students away from school.

But considering that a 2010 studyRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader found a "sizable graduation gap" between NCAA Division I football players and the general full-time male student body, it appears that the current youth-sports system remains more concerned with athletic success than academic success. Given how few youth athletes ultimately go on to professional sports careers, why haven't more schools begun asking more of their student-athletes in the classroom?

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