NCAA Implements New Academic Standards

The NCAA Board of Directors has given its final stamp of approval on legislation that holds schools to higher standards of accountability when it comes to grades and graduation rates of athletes.

In an unprecedented move, instead of just declaring players academically ineligible, schools and programs themselves will now be subject to sanctions for academic underperformance.

“We’re fulfilling the NCAA mission, which is that academics should be paramount for the member institutions,” said Robert Hemenway, chancellor at the University of Kansas and Chair of the Board of Directors. “We can’t do that without having tough academic standards and without a very clear messages to student-athletes, that if you come to our institutions, we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure you graduate.”

Some of the less severe legislation takes effect as of 2005-06. Other rules, which could impose harsher penalties on schools and is based on historical academic track records, will be phased in as of 2007-08.

“We’ve always had eligibility standards focused on the accountability to individual student athletes,” said NCAA president Myles Brand. “This focuses on accountability both for the team and institution. It has the prospect of not merely removing scholarships for poorly performing teams [academically], but also keeping them out of postseason play. That’s a very serious matter. The level of accountability has never been higher.”

The legislation gives more teeth to legislation passed two years ago, which requires athletes to maintain a certain progress rate towards earning their degree, 20-40-60-80-100 percent, respectively, over the course of five years.

Given college hockey’s track record, the new legislation is not expected to drastically impact it.

“College hockey is in pretty good standing,” said Jack McDonald, athletic director at Quinnipiac. “This legislation was not created because of college hockey.”

One less severe rule will be among the first to be enacted: Schools that don’t meet a yet-to-be-defined graduation rate cut line would not be able to fill the scholarship of a player who left early while academically ineligible.

“The most important thing is preventing schools from accepting kids not anywhere near the normal index of their school,” said McDonald. “And that’s why we have the problem we have. If you’re going to accept a kid who’s going to be an academic risk, you might not take him now.”

The exact details of the more severe historical penalties are still to be worked out. They will be based on graduation rates of student-athletes, though the rate would be determined differently than current government guidelines. For example, a player who transfers from one school to another — even if in good academic standing — is counted against the graduation rate of each school under current government guidelines. The NCAAs graduation rate will not penalize schools for players who leave early for the pros, or for any other reason, assuming they are in good academic standing at the time of their departure.

“It does not in every instance [ensure graduation],” said NCAA vice president David Berst. “But it means the student-athlete is making the same progress or more than the general student towads graduation. If we can ensure they are making 20-40-60-80 progress, then I think we’ve accomplished much.”

Programs will be rated against all Division I schools, then against all Division I schools that play that sport, then against the rest of the student body at that school.

Last week, the NCAA’s Management Council also reviewed the findings of the Recruiting Task Force, which came back with suggestions on how to change some policies regarding on-campus visits. The potential legislation is in response to a variety of scandals in recent years, mainly regarding football and basketball players being wined and dined in extravagance, including allegations of parties where alcohol and sex was provided.

“We need to find a mechanism that’s clearer to ensure we have a declaration of the athletics community that bad behavior and degrading behavior is entirely inappropriate,” said Berst. “And a mechanism in place for an approval process for the campus guidelines and policies relating to campus visits.”

In other legislation, the Management Council permanently approved a ruling that permits a one-sport conference that has played together for two years to get an automatic NCAA bid. The WCHA and CHA, which did not have the requisite six all-sport Division I schools in their conference, were given a waiver by the NCAA about 18 months ago that ensured it could maintain its automatic bid in hockey. The new ruling covers any future one-sport conferences that are created.

New legislation would also prohibit schools from taking foreign tours within 30 days prior to the start of the playing season. Currently teams are allowed to take a foreign tour once every four years without having the games count towards their NCAA limit. The idea is to prevent teams from gaining an unfair competitive advantage by getting to schedule quality games before other teams have had a chance to practice. A proposal to ban all foreign tours was shot down.