NCAA approves penalties to enforce tougher academic eligibility rules

The NCAA enacted sweeping reforms Thursday, placing greater emphasis on academics for student-athletes.

Universities could lose scholarships or postseason eligibility if its players fail to meet academic standards, NCAA officials said.

NCAA President Miles Brand said the academic rules are the strongest ever passed.

“This is the beginning of a sea change in college sports,” he said. “Landmark legislation has been passed that will ensure that each and every student-athlete has a genuine opportunity to receive a high-quality education and to graduate.”

Last fall, the NCAA approved tougher academic standards

for initial eligibility, requiring that incoming first-year students meet increased high school requirements.

The NCAA also called for student-athletes to make 20 percent progress toward their degrees each year to retain eligibility. This is known as the academic progress rate.

That measure, and a revised graduation rate that will include transfer students, will be used to evaluate institutions’ academic standings.

The new rule will take into account why students leave programs, but does not penalize teams for a player who leaves while in good academic standing, Brand said.

Under the rule, poor academic universities could not replace the scholarships of student-athletes who leave their programs while academically ineligible. Strong academic programs could.

The cutoff rates have not yet been determined, Brand said.

The NCAA is calculating past results and will release them this fall. Schools will be warned if they do not meet academic standards.

Graduation rates will be calculated across all sports, with one cutoff applying to all sports, Robert Hemenway, NCAA Board of Directors chairman said.

The rule will help increase academic standards for student-athletes, he said.

“We can’t do that without having tough academic standards and with having a clear message that if you come to our institutions to participate in intercollegiate athletics, we’re going to do everything under our power to make sure you graduate,” Hemenway said.

Some of the scholarship penalties will begin in fall 2005, said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for membership services.

The new rules will force universities to put an increased emphasis on graduating student-athletes, Hemenway said.

“The whole idea of this academic reform is that there will be considerable incentive for coaches and athletic programs to put their students on a path toward graduation and to assist them to get to the point where they can graduate,” he said.

University Athletics Director Joel Maturi said he supports the increased academic standards. He said he prefers the new academic measurements and thinks the penalties are fair.

“I agree that eventually you can’t replace some of the scholarships and eventually you can’t even participate in the postseason,” Maturi said. “Those are pretty heavy sanctions, but I agree with them.”

The reform marks the end of the five-eight scholarship rule for men’s basketball, which capped teams at five scholarships in one year and eight in two years. Each team can distribute a maximum of 13 scholarships.

The new rule does not limit the number of scholarships a team can award per year, as long as the total does not exceed 13. This allows teams to replace the scholarships of players who leave the team.

Because of the recent transfers of several Minnesota men’s basketball players, the University could not fulfill the scholarship limit. The team already gave out five scholarships this year, totaling 11 for next year.

Under the new rule, which takes effect immediately, the Gophers could sign two more players to scholarships before next season.

“From an immediate standpoint, it will allow us to get back to 13 scholarships and kind of recover some of the scholarships we lost,” assistant coach Vic Couch said.

The team will use both of the additional scholarships, he said.