NCAA too tough on recruits

Ryan Schuster

In the age of college recruiting violations, scandals and sanctions against major collegiate athletics programs, the athletes themselves are often the ones who suffer the most.
Such is the case with Chad Ganden, a freshman men’s swimmer at Michigan State.
Although Ganden has an average IQ, he is hampered by a learning disability that limits his capacity to translate written letters into spoken words.
The 18-year-old was limited academically because of his disability. But those obstacles didn’t affect his swimming performances.
While in the pool he won two consecutive 100-yard freestyle championships for Naperville North High School in Illinois. Outside of the pool, he has faced increasing problems.
Last year the NCAA denied him an opportunity to earn an athletic scholarship. They stated that he was not academically qualified to compete because of his disability.
Minnesota men’s swimming and diving coach Dennis Dale recruited Ganden for a partial scholarship for a while last year, but was scared away by the NCAA’s ruling. Michigan State was willing to offer him a full scholarship, despite the NCAA’s stance.
Ganden was unsuccessful in his three attempts taking the ACT to help him meet college eligibility requirements. His grade point average in classes endorsed by the NCAA Clearinghouse, an entity that evaluates a student-athlete’s college eligibility, was also well below those needed to earn him a full certification.
Imagine trying to take a test like the ACT, or just comprehend a simple class reading, when you have difficulty translating letters into words. It’s impossible to get clear results testing people with learning disabilities if they are not provided with alternative formats that at least allow them to comprehend the questions that are being asked.
In August, the NCAA reversed themselves somewhat by granting Ganden with their first-ever partial certification, allowing him to compete after sitting out a year and going to class.
“It’s going to ensure that in his freshman year he is going to have time to commit to his studies,” NCAA spokeswoman Kathryn M. Reith said. “We feel that we’ve given appropriate accommodations to Chad. We feel that it is appropriate to give him a partial certification.”
Ganden didn’t think so. On Thursday he sued the NCAA, alleging that it violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by not allowing him to compete this season.
The NCAA is wrong by not giving Ganden a full certification, allowing him the same opportunity that most student-athletes have. A full certification would have allowed him to swim with Michigan State this season, just like other incoming freshman who have met the NCAA’s eligibility requirements.
Why should those with learning disabilities be treated differently than other student-athletes?
By creating a new category of eligibility for athletes with disabilities, the NCAA is discriminating against them by not allowing them the same opportunity to compete.
Michigan State is not the only Big Ten school that has had problems with the NCAA and eligibility grievances. The Minnesota women’s swimming and diving program also received a scare this fall, though not quite as severe.
Incoming women’s swimmer Jenny Hennen, from Anoka, had trouble with the NCAA earlier this fall.
Unlike Ganden, her problems were not related to a lack of comprehension of the material presented in class. Quite the opposite, actually.
Hennen had difficulties with the NCAA’s Proposition 48, which requires incoming Division I student-athletes to score at least 700 on the SAT test or 15 on the ACT test and have a 2.0 GPA in at least 11 core courses designated by the NCAA Clearinghouse.
Hennen mistakenly took classes her senior year in high school that were not endorsed by the Clearinghouse. Despite her 3.9 GPA, she was initially declared ineligible by the NCAA because she did not take enough classes that counted towards college eligibility.
“Jenny Hennen took 20 credits in college before she came to Minnesota,” Dale said. “Proposition 48 was designed for marginal students, not for exceptional students like Jenny.”
Hennen spent part of her senior year in high school taking post-secondary classes. As a result, she took only the high school courses that she believed were endorsed by the NCAA.
Because of miscommunication between the NCAA and Anoka High School, her guidance counselors directed her to take several classes that were not endorsed as core curriculum classes by the NCAA Clearinghouse.
Once again, as with Ganden’s case, the NCAA moved agonizingly slow in discovering the problem. Her status as a swimmer at Minnesota was in limbo this fall until the NCAA finally rectified the situation.
The NCAA recently granted Hennen a waiver so she could compete this season, instead of having to make up the classes she didn’t take.
“We’re certainly relieved that it was handled in an appropriate way,” women’s swimming and diving coach Jean Freeman said. “I think it’s just a result of the clearinghouse not being able to keep up with all the applications they received.”
Last weekend Hennen competed for the first time with the women’s swimming and diving team in their annual intrasquad meet. She won the 100 and 200-yard freestyle events Saturday at the University Aquatic Center.
The NCAA made the right call in Hennen’s case, even though it took them too long to make up their minds. Communication between the NCAA, high schools and the athletes clearly must improve.
Hopefully this recent rash of more and more strife between student-athletes and the NCAA will resolve itself soon. If not, the NCAA may face more lawsuits like the one filed last week by Ganden.
It’s a shame that, in both instances, the real loser has been the athletes themselves, not the schools or the NCAA.