NCAA suggests rewarding academic excellence

by Sarah McKenzie

In an effort to bolster dwindling graduation rates among college basketball players, an NCAA panel issued a series of recommendations Tuesday designed to reward institutions with strong academic records.
One of the more significant academic reforms proposed by the panel places limits on scholarships available to colleges with graduation rates below 33 percent. These rates would be based on a four-year period.
Schools posting rates of 75 percent or higher would be entitled to one additional scholarship beyond the current 13 grants available to men’s basketball teams. Teams with rates bellow 33 percent would lose one scholarship under the proposed guidelines.
According to University graduation statistics, 50 percent of the men’s basketball players who entered the University in the fall of 1992 earned degrees within six years. The women’s basketball graduation rate during the same period was 100 percent.
However, the rates only reflect the academic records of three student-athletes in each respective program. The University typically compiles rates for a six-year period.
The proposed reforms follow several months riddled with controversy in the University men’s basketball program. In addition to academic fraud allegations, reports indicated that the team consistently ranked at the bottom of the Big Ten in player graduation rates from 1983 to 1991.
According to NCAA statistics from 1997, only 41 percent of men’s basketball players across the country graduated in six years or less.
The 29-member NCAA committee that drafted the recommendations, comprised of college presidents and athletic directors, has held meetings and hearings since September. The committee is chaired by Dr. Kenneth Shaw, chancellor of Syracuse University.
“We asked these folks to be ‘practical idealists,'” Shaw said in a prepared statement Tuesday. “But because we don’t live in a perfect world, we also wanted solutions that will work and will be supported by our constituents. And those solutions have to work in perhaps the most litigious environment we have ever experienced in higher education and intercollegiate athletics.”
The committee did not recommend a controversial ban on freshman play, even though Shaw admitted in his statement that he supported such a reform.
“But while there is a committed support for the concept, there simply isn’t enough support,” he said. “The majority of those who opposed freshman ineligibility have legitimate concerns about treating this group so differently from others.”
University President Mark Yudof announced his support of a ban on freshman eligibility during a June 25 press conference announcing the $1.5 million contract buyout of former men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins.
Although the committee did not approve the freshman ban, some of the provisions make academic requirements for basketball players more stringent than other Division I athletes.
The first recommendation in the report encourages all freshmen and transfer players to take summer school courses before their first fall term. Those athletes would be allowed to receive financial aid for tuition, the report states.
Chris Schoemann, director of the University’s Athletic Compliance Office, said affording more players the opportunity to get acclimated to the school during the summer would be a welcomed change.
“None of the reforms are legislation yet,” Schoemann stressed. “But they are all very intriguing.”
Under the new recommendations, all students who transfer or leave for professional basketball leagues in good academic standing would not count against the program’s graduation rate.
Schoemann said the proposal would significantly improve the University’s academic record.
“That would be great for us,” he said. “I do know for a fact that our numbers are going to be greater than they were (before).”
Other proposed changes would require basketball players to complete at least 12 hours with a minimum 2.0 grade point average by the end of their freshman year. Currently, student-athletes in other Division I sports do not have to finish a specific number of classes until after their first year.
Colleges would also be permitted to award financial aid to student-athletes who have not yet qualified for eligibility because of poor academic performance in high school or on college entrance exams, under the proposed guidelines.
The committee also made a number of recommendations in the area of recruiting, including limiting evaluations to regularly scheduled high school and junior college events under the supervision of those coaches.
The NCAA board of directors will vote on the package of recommendations in August. If formally approved by the end of the year, the guidelines could go into effect for the 2000-01 academic year.