As of August 1, 2016, student-athletes seeking eligibility to play for Division I schools must meet new academic standards established by the NCAA.
According to the new standards, high school student-athletes must complete 10 of 16 required NCAA-approved core courses before senior year. Students must earn a minimum of a 2.3 GPA in core courses, and they are not permitted to retake core courses in attempts to improve their GPA. Previous standards did not require that students take a certain number of classes before their senior year, and they only required a 2.0 GPA.
Students who plan to redshirt — that is, to delay competition for a year, though they may receive athletic scholarships and practice with the team as incoming freshmen — have slightly different requirements. They must complete 16 core courses, earn at least a 2.0 GPA in core courses, and earn minimum SAT combined scores or ACT sum scores as outlined on by the NCAA sliding scale.
The new standards are designed to make sure that students meet high school graduation requirements according to traditional sequences — and that they don’t jump ahead to take courses that fulfill the requirements for eligibility without actually learning key content (in order), or wait until senior year to take more rigorous classes. For example, based on the old standards, a student might be able to get away with taking geometry before algebra, or waiting until senior year to take both chemistry and physics.
While the National Association for Coaching Equity and Development (NAFCED) noted that it applauded the “NCAA’s intent to enhance the academic preparedness for all incoming freshmen,” the organization has not supported these particular plans. In a statement released earlier this year, the NAFCED asserted that a limitation of the number of courses counted during a student’s last semester in high school was “overly restrictive,” and that it would “result in severely disparate outcomes in certain communities of students.”
According to the NAFCED, the new eligibility standards are built upon three faulty suppositions: that high school athletes enter ninth grade knowing they are likely to be recruited by college teams and will therefore begin fulfilling NCAA eligibility requirements from their very first semester; that all high school administrators, in public and private schools, are well-versed in NCAA requirements and can guide students accordingly from the time they are freshmen; and that all students take the same amount of time to make academic progress, notwithstanding individual learning styles or special needs.
According to the NCAA , 35.2 percent of men’s football players, 43.1 percent of men’s basketball players, and 15.3 percent of all student-athletes for the 2009–2010 academic year would not have been qualified under the new requirements.
Although the ostensible purpose of the new eligibility requirements is to ensure that student-athletes are able to achieve academic as well as athletic success, in some cases the standards may prevent students from making strides in either pursuit.
In 2012, Todd Leyden of the NCAA Eligibility Center looked at prospective student-athletes who had not been eligible for intercollegiate athletics their freshman year. He surveyed athletes at the top 30 urban school districts and compared them to prospective athletes elsewhere — and what he found was discouraging. A far greater percentage of student-athletes from urban school districts — 37 percent from New York and 44 percent from Philadelphia — were ineligible to play during their freshman year because of a failure to meet academic requirements, as opposed to the overall average of 10 percent.
Some feel that high school student-athletes in underserved schools districts are already at a disadvantage because they don’t have access to the resources necessary to prepare them for college, or counselors to help them with the process.
The new stricter requirements may increase this disparity because certain districts offer a lower number of NCAA-approved core courses that these students may also have a more difficult time passing.
Concern about the widespread lack of awareness about the new initial-eligibility standards is mounting. The requirements will go into effect in August 2016, and critics worry that the NCAA has not effectively communicated the upcoming changes to college-bound student-athletes. Current high school athletes unfamiliar with the changes may already be behind and don’t have the opportunity to make up the requirements for eligibility, while still being held accountable for them.
For student-athletes who are not in the know, freshman year at a Division I school may entail all of the usual experiences and explorations — minus eligibility to play their sport.
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