How will NCAA’s new eligibility rules effect student athletes?

The NCAA Division I Board of Directors’ decision last fall to allow universities to give additional scholarship money to student athletes, for cost-of-living expenses, was well-documented. Additional initiatives passed on eligibility were less-talked about, but may have farther-reaching impact on athletes, coaches and teams.


Eligibility: Under new rules beginning in August 2016, to be eligible for competition incoming freshmen must have a 2.3 grade point average in a set of high school core courses, up from 2.0, and the appropriate standardized test score on the NCAA’s sliding scale, which has been adjusted slightly to account for the new GPA minimum. However, under a new “academic redshirt year” model, students whose GPA falls between the old and new minimums will still be eligible to receive athletic scholarships and practice with the team in their first term of enrollment, and can practice in the next term as well as long as they pass nine semester or eight credit hours.

In an attempt to eliminate the “summer miracle,” as Emmert calls it, in which a high school student looking to earn an athletic scholarship packs all the required core courses into a summer or two before graduation, would-be college athletes must now complete 10 of the 16 required core courses prior to senior year. Seven of those must be English, math and science courses.

And beginning in August, community college transfers must have a minimum 2.5 grade point average, up from 2.0, to be eligible for competition, and those who didn’t meet that mark straight out of high school must complete a core curriculum including English, math and science courses.

It’s difficult to get coaches to comment on this legislation. I threw it out to four respected Division I head coaches, and the Sports Information Director of only one school wrote back to tell me that the coach couldn’t comment. “She has to do more research,” the SID said. I suspect that is the case with the other three, as well.

Two Southern California coaches did comment, and each represents a different side of the spectrum on this issue.

Cal State Northridge Coach Jason Flowers has one concern with the new requirements, and that is that they will keep low-income student athletes out of the picture.

“The impending changes to the NCAA initial eligibility requirements are going to have a direct impact on prospects from low-income areas,” Flowers said. “Those of us who have a genuine interest in providing opportunities for young people, from those communities, need to educate prospects and parents in addition to doing what we can to make sure they meet the standards. The bar has been raised and we have no choice but to use it to propel us to new heights.”

Elbert Kinnebrew, director of Long Beach-based Cal Sparks Basketball, thinks the new requirements are fair when compared to the general student population, with the exception of the requirements for junior college athletes.

“I will gladly trade the high school 2.3 GPA for multi-year scholarships,” Kinnebrew said. “In most cases this is still far below what it would require for non-athletes to earn admission. I wonder how many schools and conferences will implement the multi-year, since it is allowable and not required.

“I don’t like the 2.5 junior college GPA requirement – it should be 2.3, just like high school.”

I can see both sides of the issue.

On one hand, it does indeed seem unfair to have a lower GPA requirement for athletes than the general student population. And on paper, a 2.3 GPA doesn’t seem like it would be too hard to achieve.

Conversely, I have taught high school in one of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the world (according to the Los Angeles Police Department Sergeant with whom I went on a ride-along a few years ago). When kids are struggling with broken/absent families, abuse, gang/drug influences, psychological issues from all of that, or all of the above, a 2.0 GPA is a lofty accomplishment, indeed. The general public has NO idea.

It would be great if the NCAA provided resources to educate and help athletes and their families in lower-income areas, rather than leaving it to high school coaches like me who have to then enlist the college and career counselor and others for help. I don’t see that happening anytime soon, however.

What do you think about these new requirements? Fair or not? And how can we help more kids to meet the new standards and go to college?


  1. Sue,

    You didnt interview one of the most important people that could comment on this matter, Reshonda Gray. Here is a young lady who came from those low income, gang and drug ridden areas. I believe I read she had a 3.4 gpa coming out of Washington Prep. I also believe she had mentors and guardians to help her make it through HS. If Reshonda could earn a 3.4 gpa, so should everyone else. I wonder how she feels about the matter.
    I also know when I was a kid, a long time ago, a 2.3 gpa was not going to cut it with my parents. If I ever came in that low, there was no sports after school, only books. By the way I grew up in a lower-middle income area in NYC that had plenty of drugs being dealt in the area.

    IM in OC

  2. I'm not advocating for either side, IM, I'm trying to present both sides. Who I'd really like to hear from is coaches, but if they won't comment, then the general public will have to do.


    IM, you do realize that you and Reshanda are the exception, don't you? Every freshman class at my former high school comes in 600 strong, and four years later, 250 graduate. So you can't hold either one of you up and say "if so-and-so can do it, so can you."

    Because Reshanda is one of the most exceptional kids I've ever met, too. Her former high school coaches and teachers will tell you the same thing. Most people who have been through what she has in her life would fold like a house of cards. Reshanda never gives up, EVER. It's phenomenal. And her godmother and I were talking after the Pac-12 tournament last month, and she says Reshanda's resilience and optimism is an inspiration to her. Me too.

    Of all the girls on the team at my former high school in the 'hood, none are playing basketball anymore (some did attend JC and play there, but none went to a four-year college after that). Three have had babies; one is a weed head. The most talented of the bunch never even tried to play at the JC level; she's sitting around doing nothing in the same neighborhood.

    Reshanda is exceptional and can't be considered an example.

  3. Some posts from rebkell, which IM in OC was kind enough to send me so I don't actually have to go to the board, which I can't stomach:

    Of course if college sports teams were ever going to be truly reflective of the institutions they represent, more would require that athletes meet the typical academic requirements for "regular students."

    What I found interesting was that while there are almost no schools that hold all athletes to the normal standards (apparently Stanford does and the Ivies do, within their "banding" system) there are lots of mid-majors in the West who hold recruits to the absolute minimum standards — in other words those with a high school record that is OK but would never get them in in competition with the bulk of applicants.

    However, no Pac-10 school other than SU will turn away a student who is eligible by NCAA standards though they may fall way below what it would normally take to get in.

    Thus, 2.3 really shouldn't be a big deal.

    What I do object to, though, is the 2.5 for JC transfers. While community college is oft-disdained by the more academically snobbish at the ultimate safety school system it IS college and theoretically should offer high level challenges than high school. So why hold students coming from a JC to a higher standard than those doing easier work in high school? To me, community college embodies one of the greatest things about America — second chances, redemption, etc. Why kick its students further back down the ladder with a GPA requirement not mandated of four-year sophs heading into their junior years?

    You really think asking a student to maintain a C+ average is all that onerous? Although C is supposedly average, I'm guessing the reality is that B is closer to actual 'average' for students in just about any environment. In the interest of the "most of us will go pro in something other than sports" theory I think it important for there to be an emphasis on the 'student' part of student-athlete.

    I don't "object" to whatever the standard that is settled on by the NCAA membership. My issue is strictly with 2.3 for high school and 2.5 for JC when NCAA sophs turning into juniors do not need that higher GPA. It seems like another knee-jerk bit of JC-bashing.


    I don't think its so much bashing as a lot of the times JC athletes are only there because they didn't meet the requirements as a high school student to go to which ever 4-year university they wanted to go and had to go to the JC to work on the gpa, and do whatever they need to do to get into the school.

    As someone who went to a JC out of high school and transferred to a 4-year university I like the higher gpa requirements for JC students.

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