The Maryland state board of education has voted to recommend that student-athletes maintain a minimum grade point average of 2.0 to remain involved in school athletics, but no schools in the state will be required to adopt this standard.
The board acted Tuesday in response to a state law passed earlier this year, which requires the board to report back to the Maryland General Assembly before the end of 2011 with a set of statewide recommendations for minimum academic standards for high school athletes.
Currently, each Maryland school system can set its own academic standards for student-athletes, so long as they can ensure that the student-athletes "are making satisfactory progress toward graduation."
Sixteen of the 24 districts in Maryland already require student-athletes to hold a 2.0 GPA to remain eligible, and the other eight have some other lower minimum standard, according to the Baltimore Sun.
In late October, the board's Committee on Minimum Standards for Participation in Interscholastic Athletics reported back to the full board with three main recommendations, the first of which was the suggested minimum GPA.
Yesterday, the board passed the recommended 2.0 GPA by a vote of 10-2.
Fear of Dropouts
The two dissenting voters expressed hesitation that the increased academic standards may cause some struggling student-athletes to drop out of school.
"You can feel good that you have upheld standards, but to what end?" said board member Kate Walsh at the meeting, according to the Sun. "I would rather have them in school." (Walsh has served as the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality since 2002.)
"If we are taking something away from a student that would motivate them to come to school, I don't think that is right," added Ronald Belinko, coordinator of athletics for Baltimore County, according to the paper.
As the Sun notes, "it's unclear whether the new standard would render more students ineligible to play on sports teams."
It's also worth stressing that the board only approved the minimum student-athlete GPA as a recommendation, not as a mandate for districts. While most districts are expected to conform to the new standard, according to the paper, they'll have flexibility in their interpretation of the rules.
For instance: Some schools may allow principals to give exceptions to student-athletes below the 2.0 GPA in extenuating circumstances, while others may uniformly prohibit any student-athletes with a GPA below 2.0 from competing.
In other words: Predicting that this recommendation will cause a huge wave of dropouts is speculative, at best.
Student-athletes in the 16 districts that already have the 2.0 GPA requirement are hardly likely to notice the new recommendation. For student-athletes in the other eight districts, the new recommended GPA could have a short-term effect on team rosters, but that will depend on each district's interpretation of the recommendation.
2.0 GPA Too Demanding?
Is a 2.0 GPA too much to ask out of student-athletes? Judging by the set of proposals approved by the NCAA in late October, that's hardly the case.
Starting in August 2015, incoming freshman student-athletes will need to have a 2.3 GPA to be immediately cleared for competition. (Currently, the NCAA requires incoming athletes to hold a 2.0 GPA.)
If a student-athlete falls between a 2.0 and 2.3 GPA after August 2015, he or she will retain an athletic scholarship and will be allowed to practice with teammates, but will be ineligible for competition in that first year.
If the NCAA will soon be requiring incoming student-athletes from all 50 states to hold a 2.3 GPA in order to be immediately eligible for athletics, suffice it to say, there's precedent for the Maryland board's recommendation.
It's important to keep in mind that athletics are a privilege for students, not a right. If a student-athlete has a sub-2.0 GPA, some might think that he or she should be spending more time hitting the books and less time on the playing field.
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