New NCAA academic standards for JUCO recruits: helping or hurting?

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

The NCAA is trying to raise the bar on JUCO athletes jumping to D1. Are they helping students become more academically prepared, or just creating more loopholes?

The NCAA makes one of the easiest punching bags in print, but very so often, is attempts to do something which might benefit students. After seeing that athletes transferring from two year colleges (JUCOs) were not succeeding academically at the same rate as their peers, the NCAA decided that raising the bar on some academic expectations might help make some students more prepared.

Friend of the Holy Land Chronicle of Higher Education writer Brad Wolverton dug a little deeper into the aftermath of the NCAA's regulation tweaks from a year ago, and found that the rule changes may be creating new loopholes, or may be inadvertently encouraging shortcuts.

The new requirements, which include a minimum grade-point average of 2.5—up from 2.0 in previous years—students have adopted a variety of tactics. Among them: enrolling at multiple community colleges to avoid prerequisites or tougher courses on students' home campuses; signing up for remedial classes in condensed formats, allowing students to speed through material without always learning what they should; and changing majors to ease their entry into big-time programs.

The rationale for the change does make sense on some level. A student who is only pulling a 2.0 at a junior college will likely be hard pressed to be successful in a more rigorous academic environment while under the time constraints of high level athletics, but the effort to skate the rules is not surprising. After all, given what's at stake during eligibility (a chance at a full ride to a 4 year college, and in some cases, a shot at a lucrative professional career), the desire to find any possible advantage to help kids get around the rules would have to be huge.

Leaders at many of these two year colleges understand the need for adjusting expectations, and have proposed a potentially huge change:

Academic advisers for two-year athletes are not against a higher bar, but they complain that the NCAA raised its requirements too quickly, and that the standards are steeper than those for other players. They worry that many athletes in need of remediation will not have enough time to receive it while on a two-year campus.

...

Leaders of two-year institutions have called for an academic "year of readiness," which would build in a third year toward the completion of an associate degree. Under such a scenario, the NCAA would allow students six years, rather than the current five, to complete their athletic eligibility.

"What's the holy grail about the five-year clock?" Mr. Roderick says. "The average student graduates in six years, but we're expecting athletes to do it in less."

Instead of the "five years to play four" cycle, adding a 6th year could potentially be a major boon for students who have more academic ground to make up (not an uncommon situation for students coming from high-poverty school systems). Slowing down the process could potentially help remove an incentive to cheat, but it could also wreck havoc on coach's ability to plan scholarships.

It's unclear exactly how many student athletes may be impacted by the changing standards, but per the article, around 1,000 football and men's basketball athletes transfer from JUCOS each year, and last year, roughly 20% had GPAs lower than 2.5. Granted, that doesn't mean that will be the case next year, but 200 athletes can give a very rough ballpark figure. Programs like Ohio State, which haven't traditionally dipped heavily into the JUCO pool for recruiting, may not be impacted as much, but others, like Kansas State or Kansas, may need to significantly reevaluate their recruiting strategies, or at least, their athletic support ones.

The NCAA, and educators and administrators, are caught in a tight spot. Virtually every stakeholder would agree that sending kids who are not in any way prepared academically for success is not an ethical maneuver, but finding ways to legislate that without inadvertently causing grade inflation, or nudging kids towards sketchy online programs, is difficult. The issue isn't unique to the NCAA, as educators of all stripes struggle when new requirements are given without necessarily being given the tools to reach them. As a former educator in inner city classrooms, I saw lots of teachers and administrators struggle with some ethically gray areas to try and meet those numbers.

The entire article is worth a read. For programs that are near the top of the APR table, like Ohio State, these changes probably wouldn't impact the program very much. But for others, and as general college football fans, the changes are worth understanding.

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