County Should Raise Academic Standards For Athletes


January 11, 1991|By Pat O'Malley

Recent legislation passed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association at its annual convention should open more doors to Division I athletics than ever before for the county's high school student-athletes.

But the question is, will Anne Arundel County change to see that county student-athletes are prepared to seek those additional opportunities?

Will county administrators finally see the need to raise its required grade-point average for playing high school sports from its current D-plus status of 1.67 to the NCAA Division I requirement of 2.00,an average of C?

This week at the huge pow-wow in Nashville, Tenn., NCAA legislators agreed to pass a set of rules that will require Division I schools to spend a minimum of $500,000 a year on scholarships, equally distributed between men's and women's athletics.

As a result, the non-revenue sports, which are basically everything exceptfootball and basketball, receive a powerful shot in the arm. More non-revenue scholarships at the Division I level will be available, andthat is good news for high school athletes.

"Maryland has been one of those states which has never really had a true Division I program (from top to bottom)," said veteran Arundel High School athletic director and baseball coach Bernie Walter. "The impact of this NCAA development will be felt now by the kids who play such non-revenue sports as baseball, softball, wrestling and field hockey."

Women athletes in particular should profit by increased scholarship opportunities, especially in softball. To meet the new minimum requirements, Coppin State, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Morgan State announced that they will add softball.

Of course, the other schools with softball already could be offering more scholarships. UMBC, for instance, will have to add five women's scholarships to its athletic budget. At the moment, UMBC is exploring the possibility of adding football to its program.

And who knows, Loyola College of Baltimore might see the need to field a softball team, which could mean the comeback of the matching spring sport of baseball. Loyola last had a Division I baseball team in 1978.

Towson State University is going tohave to add 10 to 12 scholarships, and Mount St. Mary's of Emmitsburg and Howard University of Washington are expected to add scholarships. The new Division I standards will take effect by September 1994, if not before.

To take advantage of these new opportunities student-athletes have to meet certain requirements for Division I scholarships, which include a combined 700 score on their SAT or 15 ACT and a 2.0 GPA in 22 core subjects -- math, English, science, social studies and language.

This is where Anne Arundel County falls short. The athletic and extracurricular participation requirement is just 1.67. That's not even a solid C average, and please, don't give me that cop-out that a 1.67 is a C-minus. It's not! It's a D-plus, that's what itis.

Grade-point averages are based on a scale of 1-4 with an "A" being a 4.0, B-3.0, C-2.0 and a D-1.0. An F, failing, is below 1.0.

It took the county a long time to get to a 1.67 -- the requirement went into effect in 1986 -- when prior to that all a student had to do was show up and he could play. The GPA was lifted from an embarrassing 0.66 to the 1.67 following the death of Len Bias and the subsequent academic uprising.

Usually to be successful in life, we teach young people to work hard and aim above the requirements or to at least reach the requirements. Currently, county student-athletes need only to attain below standards, but if they receive a scholarship opportunity they had better hurry up and push it up a notch to the mandatory NCAA 2.0.

In other words, we encourage mediocrity and not excellence. This is one of the major reasons many outstanding athletes who pass through the doors and gyms of our local schools do not go on to play Division I sports.

Great examples of guys who learned to skate through the system and were not academically eligible to pursue bigger and better things were two of the finest to ever play in this county.

James Butler of Annapolis, who was named the Anne Arundel County Sun Basketball Player of the '80s, and Troy Turner of Arundel, the Football Player of the Decade, could not get into the front door ofa Division I school despite being gifted with great athletic talent.

Unfortunately, because of the county's low standards over the years, there have been too many Butlers and Turners. And yes, it's up tothe individual, but when your standards are well below the next level, what can you realistically expect?

So, what will it take to getour standards up to the required 2.0 in order for our student/athletes to take advantage of the new NCAA opportunities?

It will take more open-minded and wise thinking by school board members, such as Tom Twombly of Pasadena. Twombly provided an air of optimism in a conversation I had with him this week.

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