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EdWeek Commentary Blasts NCAA's Academic Influence on High Schools

The author of a recent Education Week Commentary took aim at the National Collegiate Athletic Association's influence over high schools' academic offerings.

In the piece, James Lytle, an adjunct practice professor of educational leadership at the graduate school of education at the University of Pennsylvania, blasted the NCAA's "prominent role in defining the scope and content of precollegiate schooling." Starting in August 2016, student-athletes must meet all of the following criteria to be academically eligible at the beginning of their collegiate careers:

  • Complete 16 core courses—four years of English; three years of mathematics; two years of natural/physical science; one year of additional English, math or natural/physical science; two years of social science; and four years of additional courses (from any of those areas, foreign language, or comparative religion/philosophy). Ten of those 16 core courses must be completed before the senior year of high school.
  • Earn a minimum 2.3 grade point average in those 16 core courses.
  • Earn a combined SAT or ACT score that matches their core-course GPA on a sliding scale—those with a 2.3 GPA need at least a 900 on the SAT or a 75 on the ACT.
  • Graduate from high school.

As Lytle notes, the NCAA may review a prospective student-athlete's individual core courses, placing "the burden of compliance" on high schools. That leads him to ask the question, "Why does an organization ostensibly concerned with college athletics get to determine what is taught in high schools?"

To highlight his point, Lytle throws out a hypothetical case about how the NCAA's compliance rules may restrict a high school from altering its curriculum:

"Imagine a high school offering integrated math courses, Rosetta Stone as an option for foreign languages, dual-enrollment programs with a local community college, massive open online courses, industry and corporate apprenticeships, service-learning opportunities, an International Baccalaureate option, performing and visual arts concentrations, and portfolio/competency assessments, all taught or coordinated by highly qualified teachers and others with content expertise. Although such a school might incorporate many of the elements of cutting-edge reforms, it might well have to forgo NCAA review rather than be constrained by NCAA policies, to the disadvantage of its student-athletes."

Look no further than the case of University of Kansas freshman Cheick Diallo for an example of how the NCAA's eligibility enforcement can run awry at times. The association took months to review Diallo's coursework from Our Savior New American School, which led the university and men's basketball head coach Bill Self to issue blistering criticism of the investigation. In late November, the NCAA finally cleared Diallo after not permitting him to play in Kansas' first five games of the season, concluding he received "a limited amount of impermissible benefits."

Diallo's attorney, Don Jackson, likewise lit into the NCAA's investigation when speaking with Fox Sports' Reid Forgrave

"The fundamental issue here is the absence of due process," Jackson said. "You're guilty until you adequately establish your innocence, and if you can't establish your innocence, your eligibility will be delayed or ultimately denied altogether. If they can't produce paperwork for that amount of course work, the eligibility center assumes you didn't do it."

In the wake of Diallo's case, both Jackson and CBS Sports' Gary Parrish called for the NCAA to shift eligibility decisions to individual universities.

"With this plan, every kid at least gets a shot to prove himself as a capable college student as long as there's a college willing to enroll him," Parrish wrote. "And the NCAA, already overwhelmed with amateurism cases, would then be able to use its resources to focus completely on things that actually unlevel the so-called playing field—like, for instance, agents and shoe company executives using influence to guide elite prospects to preferred destinations."

According to ESPN's Jeff Goodman and Dana O'Neil, Diallo received an A and a B in two summer courses he took at Kansas, and he enrolled in a full 15-credit course load during the fall semester. Despite that, the NCAA forced him to miss nearly a full month of the season while it finished its investigation into his high school coursework. Considering the drawn-out process of the Diallo case, is it any wonder why Lytle believes the NCAA's policies to be "the single largest barrier to reimagining secondary school in the United States"?

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