While much of the last four months has been spent discussing multiyear scholarships and annual stipends for student-athletes, the NCAA has made a set of changes to initial-eligibility requirements, and those changes will have a significant impact on college sports.
The new initial-eligibility requirements consist of two significant changes. First is the creation of the academic redshirt. Currently there is one sliding scale to determine eligibility; a prospective student-athlete (PSA) must have the right balance of GPA in core courses and SAT or ACT scores in order to be eligible.
Under the new system, the NCAA will add a second sliding scale, which has higher requirements (the core GPA is .45 points higher than on the first scale). The first sliding scale is the same as the current scale, but a PSA who meets the requirements on that scale is only eligible for financial aid and practice in his or her first year. In order to participate in competition, the PSA must meet the requirements of the second sliding scale.
For example, a PSA with a core GPA of 2.30 and an SAT score of 900 would be eligible to receive financial aid and practice in his or her first year but not participate in competition; in order to participate in competition, that PSA with a 2.30 GPA would need an SAT score of at least 1080. (Note: SAT scores are math and critical reading only).
The NCAA has also set 2.30 as the minimum core GPA for a PSA to be eligible for competition. On the current scale, a core GPA of 2.00 is the baseline for eligibility, but on the new scale, a PSA with that core GPA would not be eligible to compete in his or first year. Instead, he or she would have to take an academic redshirt (provided the SAT or ACT score meets the requirements) and then meet college academic eligibility standards as a freshman.
The result is two levels of eligibility, with one group of student-athletes eligible to participate in competition as freshmen and another group eligible only for financial aid and practice in the first year.
While this change will affect all sports, its impact will likely be most felt in men's basketball. PSA's who expect to be "one-and-done" players but do not meet the minimum requirements for competition eligibility will have no reason to attend college at all, since there is no value in spending a year on the bench as an academic redshirt if a player has his eye on leaving for the NBA after that year.
In college football, those student-athletes who fall short of the competition eligibility will enter their first training camp knowing that there is no possibility of playing time as a freshman.
The second change in the eligibility requirements is in the assessment of core courses. All PSA's are required to complete 16 core courses prior to college. The core courses are broken down as follows: four years of English; three years of math at the Algebra I level or higher; two years of natural or physical science; one additional year of English, math, or natural/physical science; two years of social science; and four additional years of any of those areas or foreign language, philosophy, or comparative religion.
The GPA from the core courses is used on the sliding scales to determine eligibility, so those courses are very significant for a PSA. Under the new rules, 10 of the 16 core courses must be completed prior to the PSA's senior year of high school and, more significantly, those 10 core courses become "locked in" to the PSA's core GPA.
That means a PSA cannot retake a class as a senior in order to improve his or her core GPA. A poor grade in a sophomore math class cannot be undone if it is counted as one of the 10 core courses.
Ostensibly, this change is the NCAA's response to the growing number of online and other nontraditional classes, which have become increasingly difficult to monitor and accredit. But the impact will be that high school freshmen and sophomores who haven't realized their potential as college athletes will have less opportunity to get themselves in track for eligibility as they get closer to college.
Both changes - the addition of the academic redshirt and the locked-in 10 core courses - are scheduled to take effect August 1, 2015, which would impact students who are current high school freshmen.
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