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NCAA Mulling Academic Changes That Would Affect High Schoolers

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The academic landscape of the NCAA could be drastically different by this time next year, NCAA President Mark Emmert said Monday.

At a meeting with the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, Emmert discussed a number of proposals that will be finalized and sent straight to the Division I board of directors, which will meet Thursday in Indianapolis.

These proposals won't just have an impact on current college athletes. High school student-athletes hoping to play at the collegiate level will need to keep a close eye on a number of these proposed changes, too.

One such proposal would raise the minimum GPA for incoming student-athletes from 2.0 to 2.3. Emmert stressed that this particular proposal hadn't been finalized yet, meaning that the 2.3 GPA is still subject to change at this point.

Another proposal would require that students take rigorous courses all throughout their high school career, to end what Emmert dubbed the "summer miracle" phenomenon.

Emmert was referring to situations when student-athletes who haven't completed nearly the required amount of coursework suddenly show up with 16 credits of straight A's, all of which happened in the summertime.

"They need to get serious about academics when they're a freshman in high school or a sophomore in high school, not in their junior year or senior year," Emmert said. "They need to take courses in a respectable sequence that makes intellectual sense."

Many of these proposed changes came about as a result of the presidents retreat that Emmert convened earlier this summer—"one of the best conversations we've had on any subject, not just athletics," he said.

One such change that was already approved by the Division I board of directors: linking academic success to postseason performance.

Starting immediately, teams that fall below an Academic Progress Rate of 900 (which equates to roughly a 40 percent graduation rate) over a rolling four-year period will be ineligible for postseason play. Under the old rules, teams with an APR below 900 could participate in postseason play.

After two years, teams will need to achieve an APR of 930—roughly equivalent to a 50 percent graduation rate—to be allowed to participate in the postseason.

"If you're going to be able to participate in postseason play, you need to do more than just win games," Emmert said. "You have to win in the classroom as well."

Emmert also mentioned the possibility of creating an "academic redshirt" year for student-athletes who aren't yet prepared to handle the rigor of a college workload. This designation would apply to student-athletes who can meet today's NCAA academic standards, but who wouldn't qualify under the NCAA's new academic standards.

Students in an academic redshirt year would receive their scholarship money and could practice and train with the team, but would not be allowed to compete that year. They would become normal scholarship athletes the next season.

Full-Cost Scholarships on the Way?

Academics weren't the only subject Emmert discussed with the Knight Commission today. Given the scandals that have plagued college athletics over the past year, the current state of the economy, and the ongoing pay-for-play debate, finances were bound to come up at some point.

Emmert told the audience that he'll be endorsing a proposal later this week that would allow (but not mandate) conferences to offer student-athletes up to $2,000 in addition to the costs covered by their scholarships for tuition, room and board, and books and supplies, as long as it does not exceed the full cost of attendance at any one school.

"We have had the same basic model of funding student athletic grants—tuition fees, room and board, books and supplies—for 40 years," he said.

That same package would give member institutions the option to offer multiyear athletic scholarships, according to Emmert. Currently, athletic scholarships are awarded and renewed on a year-to-year basis.

Emmert wants to leave the full-cost/multiyear scholarship decision up to each individual conference instead of making it mandatory, because he doesn't want to put a conference in a position where it would have to cut scholarships or sports teams to afford full-cost scholarships.

Pay-for-play, on the other hand, is still a complete nonstarter, as far as Emmert is concerned. He thought that the professionalization of college athletics is akin to "throwing in the towel," saying that he's adamantly opposed to it.

He made sure to delineate between pay-for-play and full-cost scholarships, saying that full-cost scholarships are "unequivocally" not a pay-for-play system.

The full-cost scholarship proposal drew concern from some members of the Knight Commission and university presidents in the room.

Boise State University President Robert W. Kustra said he couldn't support the current proposal, as it would only further the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots."

Photo: NCAA President Mark Emmert, right, talks with Northwestern University President Emeritus Henry Bienen, left, and Knight Commission Co-Chairman Brit Kirwan, chancellor of the University of Maryland System, during the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics meeting in Washington on Oct. 24. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

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