ACC pushing for five years of eligibility for football

Measure could help boost players' graduation rates

July 28, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

GREENSBORO, N.C. - A recent study by the National Collegiate Athletic Association concluded that the average college student takes 4.8 years to graduate. The Atlantic Coast Conference is using that information to bolster its latest cause: getting five years of eligibility for all football players.

In a move that ACC officials and football coaches hope boosts graduation rates, the league will sponsor a measure that, if approved by the NCAA, will eliminate the four-year window of competition that has been in place for all college athletes since freshman eligibility was granted in 1972.

According to John Swofford, the ACC's commissioner, and Shane Lyons, the conference's associate commissioner for compliance and governance, the move would eliminate the need to "redshirt" players - having them sit out a year while retaining four years of eligibility - and encourage many college athletes to finish their academic requirements in order to graduate.

FOR THE RECORD - A quotation was attributed incorrectly in an article in Wednesday's editions of The Sun on the possibility of the NCAA's granting five years of playing eligibility to student-athletes.
The statements were: "If you are doing it for one sport or two sports, eventually it's going to come full circle. If you are going to do it for men's basketball and women's basketball and nobody else, I guess you could probably survive. But if you go out and do it for football, you've got 63 scholarships in 1-AA and 85 in 1-A. Where's the comparable women's sport to that?" They were spoken by Dr. Wayne Edwards, athletic director at Towson University. The Sun regrets the error.

Lyons announced the proposal yesterday at the commissioner's forum concluding the ACC Football Kickoff three-day media gathering here. Swofford is hoping that such legislation would improve graduation rates.

"I think it will encourage players who are 12 hours short [of graduation] to stay a fifth year and play," Swofford said.

Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen has been a strong advocate of what could be one of the most significant pieces of NCAA legislation since freshmen were allowed to compete 32 years ago.

"More than any other sport it fits football because we have kids here for five years anyway," he said.

Friedgen said he believes that it would help players on and off the field.

"It might help the kids academically if they know they have a chance to play" as freshmen, he said. "There would be more freshmen on special teams. I think it would have a tremendous impact as far as preventing injury" by having more available players.

"I would probably look to have a couple of JV games too," he said. "Kids would have something to look forward to instead of just practicing."

The proposal follows a similar recommendation made recently by the National Association of Basketball Coaches to allow men and women college players to have five years of eligibility.

This is not the first time such a proposal has been made for either sport.

"The five-year thing for football has been out there before, fairly recently, and it didn't fly," Swofford said. "I think that it's got a better chance now than ever before because there seems to be a mentality that different sports have different issues that they need to look at legislatively."

The ACC proposal will go before the league's university presidents and chancellors at a meeting in September. It is expected to be approved there and forwarded to the NCAA Management Council for consideration at its October meeting.

If there is enough interest from the NCAA, it could be voted on at the general convention in January. If passed, it could be in place by April. According to the ACC proposal, it would include those players whose college careers are already under way.

Friedgen said he wouldn't change his current philosophy about redshirting until the measure was passed. He said that this proposal follows recent NCAA legislation regarding athletes making progress toward a degree. Under rules that will go into effect this year, athletes have to complete 20 percent of their requirements each year for a five-year period.

Lyons said that typically more than 70 percent of freshman football players are redshirted their first season. Friedgen said a recent study showed that, over the past decade, teams used only 57 of the 85 scholarships available in spring practice, and used only 61 scholarship players during the season.

Before 1972, all athletes were ineligible as freshmen and had three years of eligibility.

NCAA spokesman Wally Renfro said that the association's president, Myles Brand, has been "supportive" of the NABC's proposal of five years' eligibility for men and women basketball players. But he added, "It may not be as simple as it seems on paper.

"You have to be careful that you don't create unintended consequences with what appears to be a very logical choice, and that's the reason you have the membership examine this from all of its various points of view. But clearly, if it's sound for men's basketball, it is probably sound for football and women's basketball."

One obvious obstacle would be satisfying the coaches of nonrevenue sports - such as tennis, field hockey and wrestling - whose athletes would, under this proposal, still have only four years of eligibility. It could also come under fire from Title IX proponents, who might point to the inequity of having two men's sports and only one women's sport involved.

"If you are doing it for one sport or two sports, eventually it's going to come full circle," Renfro said. "If you are going to do it for men's basketball and women's basketball and nobody else, I guess you could probably survive. But if you go out and do it for football, you've got 63 scholarships in 1-AA and 85 in 1-A. Where's the comparable women's sport to that?"

Sun staff writer Ed Waldman contributed to this article.

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