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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?

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