The time is right for freshman sports proposal

Keeping new students in class instead of on the field would help boost graduation rates.

Jared Rogers-Martin

Football and basketball players account for less than 19 percent of the athletes in the NCAA, but this small demographic makes up more than 80 percent of the NCAA’s academic infractions.

The upper brass in the Big Ten conference is discussing one way of sealing this leak in academic progress by requiring all freshman athletes in the Big Ten to undergo a mandatory “year of readiness” in which they couldn’t compete.

The proposal, which is being circulated among conference schools, allows freshman athletes to build a strong foundation in their college coursework before jumping onto the sports field.

This idea has a historical background. Before 1972, the NCAA required all freshman student-athletes to undergo a year of ineligibility.

As of now, this requirement only exists as a proposal to test the waters in the Big Ten athletic departments. But so far, the idea has gotten mixed reviews.

“If this is the best way to accomplish the goals of raising graduation rates and academic performance for all student-athletes, then we should consider it,” University of Maryland athletics director Kevin Anderson told the Diamondback, UMD’s student newspaper, which broke the story on the proposal.

Gene Smith, the athletics director of the Ohio State University, sees things differently.

He claims he has not “been a proponent of freshman ineligibility.” However, he “[keeps his] mind open that maybe it’s something we have to consider.”

Student-athlete graduation rates at the University of Minnesota are not the worst, but they are not exactly medal-worthy, either.

The NCAA calculates an Academic Progress Rate to determine a school’s commitment to academic eligibility.

In 2012-13 data, the NCAA ranked the University’s football and men’s basketball teams as being in the 20th to 30th percentile of APR rakings, in comparison to the rest of college athletics.

The University’s basketball team had the lowest ranking on campus, with an APR of 960, and the football team stood right behind them at 962.

When reviewing these numbers, we should consider to what end these numbers suggest University student-athletes are actually being “Driven to Discover.”

A winning sports team stirs quite a fanfare on campus, but hedonic victories shouldn’t distract the team’s commitment to studying and participating in college academics.

The University should support the Big Ten’s proposal regardless of how many of the University’s student-athletes graduate. The “year of readiness” proposal issues a statement to students and the whole of the NCAA: Our school stands in solidarity with the philosophy that academics come first and athletics second.

It shows that we are a research institution, not a petri dish for spawning athletes on professional sports teams. If enacted, the Big Ten proposal would affirm that diplomas are more golden that championships.