Freshman eligibility rules altered

NCAA ruling gives high schools more say

February 03, 2000|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

As the NCAA implements rules that change one aspect of freshman eligibility requirements, some local coaches applaud while others yawn.

High schools now have more of a liberal hand in determining the core courses that athletes must take to participate in college sports during their freshman year.

Last spring, an NCAA subcommittee recommended the change, which was approved by the Division I and II membership at last month's NCAA Convention.

"The NCAA is saying that you have an educator in charge of the schoolhouse and he or she is going to determine whether these are college level courses these youngsters are taking," said Ron Belinko, athletics coordinator for public schools in Baltimore County. "Who's more able than the high school principal to make those decisions?"

Where the NCAA Eligibility Clearinghouse was once strict enough to disallow social studies courses in which independent study or current affairs made up more than 25 percent of the syllabus, now "we've become more generic in defining those academic criteria," said Bob Oliver, the NCAA's director of membership services.

To achieve approval, a class is only required to be college preparatory; be taught at or above the high school's regular academic level; and qualify for graduation credit in English, math, natural or physical science, social science, foreign language, computer science or non-doctrinal religion or philosophy.

The criteria for core subjects may also include independent study courses as well as those taken over the Internet or through correspondence, alterations that Oliver said were made after two years of discussions on the matter.

"In areas of science and English, for example, they do a lot of interdisciplinary work," he said. "We're saying, if you give a course in English credit at your high school and that's preparing the student for a four-year college, then that's meeting the intent of what we're trying to do."

Coppin State athletic director and men's basketball coach Fang Mitchell welcomed the move toward more discretion on the part of high schools. "I just think that makes it better, because the people that are teaching the kids will have a better idea than some people in an office somewhere."

Towson men's basketball coach Mike Jaskulski didn't see much difference in the new rules. NCAA legislation allowing high schools to determine core courses has been on the books since February 1998 to deflect criticism from the clearinghouse, which was accused of rejecting classes based on the course names, with no knowledge of the content.

Since then, high schools have been encouraged to submit a list of NCAA Approved Core Courses, which were subject to a stricter standard.

"I don't think it's much of a change," Jaskulski said. "I don't think we'll see a rash of canoeing and basket-weaving."

The puff courses that Jaskulski refers to are the only ones that Oliver says the NCAA is sure to investigate, accepting in most cases a principal's certification that a course satisfies requirements.

Bob Wade, coordinator of athletics for Baltimore City public schools, believes the change will have a noticeable impact.

"This is very rewarding to the kids who are so close or on the bubble. I just hope they now take advantage of this remarkable opportunity," said Wade. "It's not every day the NCAA does something like this. I think there will now be a large percentile of kids receiving athletic scholarships. Kids will not have to be going to prep schools and junior college. Now, they can go right to four-year accredited schools."

Sun staff writer Katherine Dunn contributed to this article.

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