NCAA grants year to hoops

A proposed NCAA rule change would grant college basketball players an extra year of eligibility.

The National Association of Basketball Coaches unanimously approved the proposal last week, and NCAA President Miles Brand also endorsed the plan.

“I understand it will be controversial,” Brand told The Associated Press on Thursday. “We’ll see how it turns out. But I believe the main purpose is to increase graduation rates in men’s basketball, which has had the most severe problem.”

In recent years, Division I men’s basketball graduation rates have been around 40 percent, the lowest of all college sports. Minnesota has one of the lowest rates in the country, University Athletics Director Joel Maturi said.

The average college student takes nearly five years to graduate, so it makes sense to give basketball players more time to complete their degrees, he said.

“I do think the reality at most public institutions today is that the general student does not graduate in four years, let alone the student-athlete,” Maturi said. “So I’m not opposed to the prospect of five years of eligibility.”

Assistant coach Jim Molinari said the men’s basketball program supports the proposal because it focuses on improved academic performance.

“Coach (Dan) Monson’s values are very strong about really trying to help these young men get their degrees,” Molinari said.

A fifth year of eligibility would entice more players to complete their degrees because it often proves difficult to convince players to stay in school if they can no longer compete athletically, he said.

“They could still do what they love, while finishing what’s really important,” Molinari said.

But Maturi said he thinks the change would have little impact on the University’s graduation rates because it already gives its athletes five years of financial aid.

Athletes who have left school early are typically those who struggled academically, had social problems or decided to play professionally overseas, Maturi said.

“Usually if they complete four years, the great majority of those kids – at least at the University of Minnesota – do leave with a degree,” he said.

Molinari said the proposal could also improve retention rates, because it would discourage transferring by counting the year players sit out as a redshirt toward their eligibility.

“Now there is a little cost to it in the sense that they’re not going to be able to play five years,” Molinari said. “They can still play four, but they’re not going to play five. I think that would make the retention rate progress some.”

Most players will probably use the additional eligibility, Molinari said.

“I would think that most players coming in now would want to look at this as a five-year plan,” he said.

Coach Pam Borton said she does not think women’s basketball would consider adding another year of eligibility, but said she did not feel strongly one way or another about it. She also questioned how the change would affect men’s basketball.

“For men’s basketball, they’re having a hard time keeping guys in school for two years, let alone add a fifth year of eligibility,” Borton said. “I also think it’s going to eliminate opportunities for other kids coming out of high school if that fifth year is taking up that scholarship.”

The men’s basketball proposal also calls for coaches to meet regularly with players about their coursework, allows coaches to make more phone calls to recruits and includes stricter penalties for secondary NCAA rules infractions.

Coaches should be allowed to have more contact with recruits so they can build stronger relationships, Molinari said.

“I think the big thing coaches would like is to be able to sit down and watch their players in the summer and fall,” he said. “Coaching is about relationships, and the first element of any good relationship is that you can spend time together.”

Maturi said the proposal’s main benefit would be financial, because if players use the additional eligibility, it would spread the cost of their scholarships over five years. The fifth year does not count toward the University’s scholarship limits, he said.

The proposal must still receive NCAA approval. Brand said he would support the plan in its entirety.

“It’s coherent, and it’s an effort to make the coach more like a mentor and a teacher,” Brand said.

The proposal represents the latest recommendations in Brand’s drive for sweeping academic reform. A rule approved earlier this year penalizes schools that fail to meet academic standards with the loss of scholarships or postseason play.