NCAA adopts academic reforms

Colleges, coaches, players to be held accountable for progress of athletes

April 30, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

In a move to improve the graduation rates of college athletes, the NCAA adopted yesterday a potentially ground-breaking academic reform package that will hold players, coaches and universities accountable for the progress of athletes.

NCAA officials outlined a plan that could result in loss of scholarships and a ban on post-season play for teams that continually fail to make the grade.

"This is a very significant day in the history of the NCAA," said University of Kansas Chancellor Bob Hemenway after the vote in Indianapolis by the Division I board of directors. "I think we're really fulfilling the NCAA mission, which is that the education of the student athletes should be paramount for the member institutions. ... We can't do that without having tough academic standards."

The board of directors is made up of 16 college presidents and chancellors.

Said NCAA President Myles Brand: "This is a critically important set of legislative measures, the strongest ever passed by the NCAA, and different in kind because it holds teams as well as institutions accountable."

Ever since it was discovered that basketball player Kevin Ross spent four years at Creighton University in the early 1980s without learning to read, there has been mounting pressure on colleges to better educate their athletes. In 1986, the NCAA passed Proposition 48, rules geared toward helping high school athletes considered academic risks make the transition to the college classroom.

Last fall, the first stage of the latest reform was put into effect, establishing an academic profile for prospective college athletes.

Under the new guidelines, athletes must be on track each year to graduate within five years, and be in good academic standing after each semester.

The percentage of players on each team that must be in compliance without triggering penalties will be established by another NCAA committee and announced early next year. But Brand made it clear that the bar will be high for everyone.

"There will be one cutline for all sports, but it will affect different sports in different ways, given the historical academic success of those sports," said Brand. "Women's track will be less affected than men's basketball, but the cutline would be the same. Some teams tend to do better academically than others."

Making reforms real

Though the academic performance of athletes under the new guidelines is being closely monitored during the 2003-2004 school year, the new plan officially goes into effect next fall. At that point, freshmen will be measured according to whether they are completing their degree requirements. Each athlete must pass at least 20 percent of their academic credits each year.

The first public reprimands for schools whose teams come in below the cutline could be handed down in the fall of 2005. It will take at least until the fall of 2006 for the first penalties, such as loss of scholarships, to be implemented for schools that have shown a pattern of sub-par academics.

"We're starting immediately to make these reforms real," said Hemenway, chairman of the NCAA board, which moved up the starting point by one year over the initial recommendation from the NCAA's Management Council.

"What is happening right now is that the academic progress rate for every institution is being calculated," he said. "This fall, every institution will receive from the NCAA an indication ... of how much that institution would have been at risk for some of the penalties" had the rules been in place.

Under the new rules, as long as players leave a school in good academic standing, their scholarships can be given to others. Also, players who transfer into a school and later graduate will be counted on that school's ledger. In the past, transfers were not counted for or against a school's graduation rate no matter how they fared academically.

Those hoping to transfer from junior colleges will have to adhere to the new guidelines in order to qualify academically at four-year schools.

Coaches' concerns

There are still many concerns about the new academic reform package, mainly from coaches who believe that some of their colleagues might have their players take an easier route to graduation rather than jeopardize their eligibility.

Georgia Tech basketball coach Paul Hewitt said this week that the risk for "academic fraud" might be greater if the standards are so much tougher.

Brand doesn't seemed concerned.

"Am I worried about stronger standards producing unintended consequences and academic fraud? Not at all," said Brand, the former Indiana University president who gained national attention for firing longtime Hoosiers coach Bob Knight in 2000. "The fact of the matter is that we have to stamp out academic fraud wherever we find it. If we would lower standards, we would still find it."

Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams said in an interview Wednesday that it will be difficult to find a system that is equitable for all schools, large and small, public and private.

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