COLLEGE PARK -- Football coach Joe Krivak says he feels boxed in by Maryland's high admissions standards. University administrators, though, say he has plenty of room to make the Terrapins competitive.
"We don't know if a student will make a significant impact on the football team. We leave that responsibility to the coach," said Gerald Gurney, associate athletic director of academic support. "But, if I were a coach, I would not use a special admit for a marginal player with marginal grades. In theory, there should be 50 impact players in the program every year."
Special admissions -- those students allowed to enter Maryland even though they fall below the university minimum of an 850 score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test and a 2.5 grade-point average in high school core curriculum -- is one of several issues being discussed by Krivak and athletic director Andy Geiger. Geiger is evaluating the program after a 2-9 season, Maryland's worst since 1971. Krivak is in the first year of a four-year contract worth $94,000 per season. He has a career record of 20-34-2 at Maryland.
Maryland is allowed eight to 10 special admissions per year for football, which is comparable to other Atlantic Coast Conference teams.
Krivak also has said Maryland's entrance requirements have chased away recruits, forcing the Terps into one small special admissions pool. Gurney has said the standards are in the top half of the eight-team Atlantic Coast Conference.
And the academic standards are working off the field.
Gurney said the GPA for the football team has improved in the past five years from 2.14 to 2.40.
"We're just beginning to see the light, or fruit of the new standards that were put in place here," said Gurney.
Krivak has been a firm supporter of the academic support group, and his graduation record is one of the reasons Geiger signed him to a new contract last year, despite the win-loss record.
In the past four years, Maryland has graduated 56 of 77 players who entered their senior years still in the program. The average SAT score for the football team is 880, compared with 1,050 for other university students.
"In no way do I want to underestimate the job Coach Krivak has done in working with academic support," said Gurney. "His staff works very well with us, particularly Jeff Mann [recruiting coordinator]. Our staffs have worked well together, and each semester we have seen progression in the performance of the athletes."
However, Terps coaches say they are on an uneven playing field. Clemson, for example, had 20 of 25 players recruited in 1989 specially admitted. One of Maryland's non-conference opponents, Syracuse, takes Proposition 48 players (those below the NCAA standard of 700 SAT, 2.0 GPA), and Georgia Tech considers an athlete, even if he barely exceeds Prop 48 standards.
ACC schools, though, do not accept Prop 48 athletes.
"You can't get players in here, and then you're asked to play against them on Saturday," Krivak once said. "The university has its own standards, and you have to work within those standards, and, sometimes, it makes your job a little difficult."
The problem is not entirely new. Bobby Ross, who had a 39-19-1 record and three ACC titles in five seasons at Maryland, saw the stringent admission policies coming and left after a 5-5-1 record in 1986.
Since then, Maryland has reduced its number of special admissions per year for the athletic department from 48 to 18. The football team once was allowed an indefinite number.
Still, Krivak has ended up with about the same number of special admissions players on his teams as Ross had. From 1982 until 1986, the football team used 59 special admissions, compared with 51 from 1987 until this season.
During the past five years, Maryland has added an average of 24 scholarship players a season (an average of 21 the past two years), which means nearly half of its recruiting classes are special admissions.
"It has taken the talent pool and made it smaller with the higher admission standards," Maryland assistant coach Kurt Van Valkenburgh said recently. "Now, you have to maximize everything you do."
Geiger has declined to comment during the evaluation process.
"There are no facts or statistics that bear out that the new guidelines limit the performance of any of the athletic teams, and last year's football team [6-5-1] proved that," said Gurney, who -- has worked within the athletic department since 1987. "I feel Linda [Clement, director of undergraduate admissions] has bent over backward to get players in here while maintaining the standards of the university.
"Prior to 1985, there were some admission decisions that were overturned at higher levels. . . We have made standards higher for the minimum qualifier, and we're also getting stronger specially admitted students."
In order to get away from what Geiger once described as "just a part of the insidious system we got ourselves into of labeling people," Maryland now uses an academic index in addition to a specific GPA and SAT score.