NCAA President Mark Emmert wasn't kidding earlier this week when he said that the NCAA would move swiftly to enact substantial changes.
The Division I board of directors approved a package of proposals on Thursday that will boost academic standards for student-athletes and improve their welfare on campus.
Starting in August 2015, high school student-athletes who hope to play sports in college will be held to a higher academic standard. While freshmen only need a 2.0 GPA to be eligible for competition now, the new rules require student-athletes to have a 2.3 GPA to have immediate access to competition.
If a student-athlete meets the current 2.0 GPA requirement but falls short of the 2.3 GPA required for competition, the NCAA approved a proposal that will allow him/her to still remain on his/her athletic scholarship. The NCAA is calling this an "academic redshirt" year.
Academic-redshirt student-athletes will be allowed to practice with the team during the first term of their enrollment. They'll be allowed to practice with the team in the next term if they pass nine semester or eight quarter hours.
The board of directors also approved a proposal aimed at ending what Emmert dubbed "summer miracles." Under the new rules, college prospects must successfully complete 10 of the 16 required core classes before the start of their senior year in high school, with seven of those 10 courses coming in English, math, and science.
One proposal approved earlier this summer, which will link a team's academic success to postseason eligibility, will take effect in the 2012-13 school year.
Over the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons, teams will need to achieve a 900 multiyear Academic Progress Rate (correlating to roughly a 40 percent graduation rate) or a 930 average over the past two years (roughly a 50 percent graduation rate) to be eligible to participate in the postseason.
In 2014-15, teams need to meet the 930 multiyear APR average or average a 940 APR over the past two years to be eligible for the postseason.
And starting in the 2015-16 school year, all teams must reach the 930 APR benchmark to retain postseason eligibility. Otherwise, teams may face new consequences, including a potential loss of practice time or coaching suspensions.
"We're trying to balance being tough with being fair. These are noticeably higher standards than in the past, but we recognize we need some time to change behavior," said Walter Harrison, the chairman of the Division I Committee on Academic Performance and president of the University of Hartford.
As Emmert alluded to earlier in the week, the board approved substantial changes to athletic scholarships on Thursday, too.
The board adopted legislation that will allow schools to give student-athletes up to an extra $2,000 in athletic aid (assuming it doesn't exceed the full cost of attending the school). The board set that $2,000 number in stone for the next three years.
A 2010 study from the National College Players Association found that Division I athletes on a full scholarship in 2009 were left with an average shortfall of $2,951/year from their scholarship. Scholarships cover tuition, room and board, and books and supplies, but athletes are left to cover expenses such as food, clothing, and transportation.
Schools and conferences will not be required to offer the extra money to student-athletes. Emmert did not want to force their hand on this potentially controversial measure, especially if schools would have to cut scholarships in other places to be able to afford the extra $2,000.
The board also approved a proposal that will allow schools to offer multiyear athletic scholarships, instead of the current model where athletic scholarships are renewed on a yearly basis. Much like the full-cost scholarships, multiyear scholarships will be strictly optional, not mandatory.
"These changes demonstrate a remarkable resolve by presidents," said Emmert. "They represent a return to and a focus on values that are at the core of what intercollegiate athletics are all about. They also represent a clear signal to the world about what we care about and what we stand for."
One final change approved by the board, which I hadn't caught wind of before today: Colleges can now offer financial aid to former student-athletes who remain or return to their schools after exhausting their eligibility.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan should be pleased by that move. On a panel at the Aspen Ideas Festival earlier this year, Duncan said that athletic scholarships should be a five- or six-year commitment.
"The point is to get that degree," he said, "and if it takes five years, that's fine. If it takes six years, that's fine."
Looks like the NCAA agrees, Mr. Duncan.
UPDATE (6:45 P.M.): The fallout from today's rule changes is already becoming evident, as the University of Connecticut is expected to be ineligible for the 2013 NCAA men's basketball tournament as a result of the new APR requirements, according to the Associated Press.
While a UConn official told the Hartford Courant that the school's 2010-11 APR score should be around 975 when it's released in April, that won't be enough to salvage UConn's postseason eligibility.
UConn's APR for 2009-10 was 826, which correlates to roughly a 25 percent graduation rate. Combining their last two scores results in a two-year average of 900.5 and a four-year average of 888.5, but they'd need a two-year average of 930 or a four-year average of 900 to retain postseason eligibility.
For UConn (and any other academically ineligible schools, for that matter), their lack of postseason eligibility will almost certainly become a major obstacle in recruiting. What savvy coach, when recruiting a prospect who's interested in going to UConn, won't mention the postseason ineligibility as a major reason not to attend?
On a completely different note, Gerald Turner, president of Southern Methodist University and co-chairman of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, released the following statement regarding the NCAA's rule changes:
"We commend the NCAA for taking meaningful steps toward college sports reform today. We are pleased to see proposals the Commission has championed for many years be embraced as policies to realign college sports with its values.
Over the past two decades, the Commission has called for policies that treat athletes as students first and that reward institutions for making academic values a priority in their athletic programs. Some of those policies were passed today. We are very pleased that the NCAA will implement the Commission's recommended standard that teams be on track to graduate 50 percent of their players to be eligible for post-season play, including March Madness and bowl games. This standard makes a clear statement about the importance of academic success."
Photo: NCAA President Mark Emmert speaks about policy changes being considered by the NCAA during the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics meeting in Washington on Oct. 24. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
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