November 2002

NCAA Considers New Standards for Initial and Continuing Eligibility
By: Deborah Katz

For the fourth time in 20 years, the National Collegiate Athletic Association is considering major changes to initial and continuing eligibility rules. If the proposals are adopted, they can go into effect as early as fall 2003.

The initial eligibility component of the package includes three alternatives regarding the NCAA's current sliding scale. One proposal maintains the current 2.0 high school core grade point average requirement and moves the test score cut from the current 820 SAT to 620. A second proposal eliminates the test score cut, while a third eliminates both cuts by establishing a full sliding scale. All three initial eligibility proposals increase the number of core courses from 13 to 14, and they also eliminate all references to partial qualifiers.

A key proposal for continuing eligibility standards is replacement of the 25-50-75 percent of the course requirements in the student’s degree program by the start of their third, fourth and fifth year, respectively, with a 40-60-80 scale. The addition of annual GPA minimum requirements is also included.

The package has completed the membership comment phase of the Division I legislative process. The Division I Management Council and Board of Directors will vote on the proposals at their fall meetings.

Two years ago, the Division I Board of Directors appointed a group of academic consultants to develop an academic enhancement package. The Board charged the group to increase graduation rates while minimizing any disparate impact on minority and low-income prospects. The consultants proposed a plan to balance academic access and success by increasing access to initial eligibility while providing stronger continuing eligibility standards to promote graduation.

The plan was based on NCAA-conducted research using the Academic Performance Census, a tool created in 1994 to test high school performance and early college performance as predictors of graduation and specifically the impact of Proposition 16.

The study tracks academic behaviors of student athletes in Division I colleges or universities between 1994 and the present. The research assesses graduation status after six years for all 26,000 annual Division I student athletes as well as the first-year outcomes and graduation status for the 13,000 Division I student athletes who are on athletically related financial aid. The research also considers the yearly outcomes of a sample of Division I student athletes receiving athletics aid.

The data shows that a significant drop off in academic performance occurs just before or during the junior year for student athletes who do not graduate. The results suggest that while high school grades and test scores prove to be an accurate indicator of first-year college performance and a useful indicator of the likelihood of graduation, performance in each subsequent year of college brings a more accurate indication of degree completion.

The data prompted a search for a “seamless” model for academic standards that uses initial eligibility to predict achievement of an academic milepost during a student athlete’s college career and uses continuing eligibility standards to predict graduation. The model looks to strike a balance between two ends of a spectrum - increased access to prospects who are less likely to graduate and the adjustment of standards to improve graduation while eliminating prospects who cannot meet initial requirements.

The fate of the proposals remains uncertain. While the athletic and larger higher education communities support higher graduation rates and academic integrity, the proposals are controversial just as were their legislative predecessors. The NCAA membership was divided in 1983 about Proposition 48, which required a 2.0 grade point average in 11 core courses and a minimum test score. Proposition 42 followed in 1989, preventing partial qualifiers from receiving financial aid. Georgetown University men’s basketball coach, John Thompson, walked off the court in protest before a nationally televised game before the proposition was rescinded the following year. Finally, Proposition 16, the Association’s current standard that introduced the “sliding scale,” was so controversial that it had to withstand a legal challenge.

The next piece of the academic enhancement package awaiting discussion is referred to as the incentives/disincentives part of the package. It is also expected to promote controversy. Its purpose is to establish an annual academic performance rate and a new NCAA graduation success rate that would supplement the report required by the federal government. Its purpose is also to implement a set of rewards and penalties for institutions that meet or do not meet those standards.

College and university presidents have expressed concern about the federal report because it does not account for transfers who graduate from other institutions or for student athletes who leave programs in good academic standing. They also want to promote academic success and increased graduation rates.

The Board of Directors endorsed the concept in August and appointed a committee to make specific recommendations after considering a variety of incentives and disincentives including post-season restrictions, revenue distribution reductions and reduced grants-in-aid.

A vote on any proposal regarding the incentive/disincentive issue will not occur until April 2004 at the earliest, but much discussion and discord is expected. To follow the progress of the academic enhancement package, see Proposals 02-22 through 02-26 on the NCAA Web site at www.ncaa.org.

Deborah Katz is a national expert in sports compliance providing business services to the higher education community and its many affiliated organizations. Katz has a bachelor’s in political science, a master’s in sports management, J.D., and a doctorate in education administration. The growth and diversity of her work has resulted in expanded services to other sectors in the business community that allow her to specialize in the broader issues of risk management. Today, she is an independent consultant helping her clients to reduce exposure and increase efficiency in a heavily regulated business climate.

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Managing Editor: Heather Zimar | Staff Writers: Christopher Just, Lisa Rosenberg | Contributing Editors: Barmak Nassirian, Cody Brumfield | Copy Editor: Kelly Stern | Design and Layout: Spark Media Group

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