A new series of reforms for collegiate athletics may make life easier for some student-athletes, but more difficult for future athletes to get recruited.
In response to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics — an independent committee that assesses the academic standards set by collegiate sports — the NCAA Division I Board of Directors approved last Thursday several significant reforms to the organization’s eligibility requirements and scholarship guidelines. The Knight Commission also met in Washington D.C. late last month with NCAA President Mark Emmert and several administrators from universities across the country to discuss a variety of subjects, including the new reforms.
One of the changes includes an increase in the grade point average for incoming freshmen student-athletes from a 2.0 to 2.3 GPA. Junior college transfers now must have at least a 2.5 GPA to be eligible for recruitment. Previously, junior college transfers only needed a 2.0 GPA.
The board also increased the cutline for a team’s Academic Progress Rate — a number based on retention and eligibility numbers over four years that serves as an indicator of graduation rates. After 2014, teams no longer will be eligible for post-season play if their APR is below 930. Before, teams needed a 900 to be eligible.
Furthermore, the board approved a rule that allows conferences to vote to add an amount of up to $2,000 in scholarship offers to compensate for out-of-pocket costs of student-athletes.
Associate Athletic Director David Ablauf wrote in a statement to The Michigan Daily that the NCAA is examining a variety of proposed reforms from universities around the nation and will continue to discuss potential changes in the future.
“There are a lot of suggestions and opinions on what reforms the NCAA should make in the future,” Ablauf wrote. “Mark Emmert and his team at the NCAA are working hard to evaluate the governance of the organization and look at proposals from institutions, conferences and outside groups. Change doesn’t happen overnight.”
Though the NCAA panel approved several of the Knight Commission recommendations, Ablauf wrote that the University Athletic Department was not ready to discuss specific reforms.
“We will wait until the proposals make their way through the NCAA legislative process, are discussed at the highest levels and pass through the approval process,” Ablauf wrote.
In an interview on Friday, Bill Martin, who served as the University’s Athletic Director from 2000 to 2010, said he supports the reforms approved by the NCAA.
“I think these changes are healthy, and I fully support them,” Martin said. “I think that we have gotten too lax and lenient over the last few decades in terms of academic rigor.”
Martin said the changes didn’t come soon enough and have been issues long troubling universities in the NCAA.
“I think this is certainly long overdue,” Martin said. “We have seemed to have a double standard for the general student body and then for scholarship athletes.”
While the new policies may hinder certain student-athletes from playing, Martin said they’re ultimately in the best interest of the academic integrity of college sports.
“I think kids will come better prepared,” Martin said. “And if they’re not prepared to meet these standards, they simply won’t be admitted.”
Martin said Michigan’s APR has always been up to par with NCAA standards, though some teams have more difficulty than others.
“We have some teams that graduate 100 percent of the kids, and others that don’t,” Martin said.
He added that graduation rates can often be skewed when athletes with good grades get drafted into professional teams.
According to the NCAA’s website, the average APR for the University’s varsity sports teams for the 2009-2010 academic year was about 984, with football rating lowest at 928 and men’s golf, men’s gymnastics, women’s basketball and both tennis teams having perfect scores of 1,000 — constituting 100 percent graduation among athletes.
The University of Connecticut’s basketball team may be one of the first teams to be affected by the reforms. A UConn official estimated that the team’s APR for the current academic year is 975. In the past 3 years, the team’s rates in the past 3 years, the team has a two-year combined score of 900.5 and a four-year combined score of 888.5. Both scores are too low to be eligible for the 2013 basketball tournament.
In the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 academic years, teams scoring below 900 on their four-year APR would be ineligible to play in postseason tournaments unless they had an average APR of 930 for the two most recent years of APR data. By 2014-2015, teams that still have a four-year APR below 930 will ineligible unless their APR averaged 940 in the two most recent years. After 2014-2015, teams that have four-year APR averages below 930 will not be eligible.
Martin said UConn needs to take its APR scores seriously.
“I think that sends a very strong message to UConn to strengthen their academic requirements and their academic support program,” Martin said.
University Regent Andrea Fischer Newman (R–Ann Arbor), a member of the Knight Commission, wrote in an e-mail interview that teams should be qualified both athletically and academically to play in post-season events.
“It is a great privilege to compete for a national championship,” Newman said. “The championship slots and the financial rewards that accompany them should be reserved for teams that meet minimal academic standards.”
She added that football and men’s basketball teams across the country have particularly low graduation rates compared to other sports, and the reforms will improve the academic integrity of the NCAA as a whole.
“The Knight Commission has commended the NCAA for the new standards as they emphasize the ‘college’ in college sports,” Newman said.
Martin also expressed his support for conferences adding out-of-pocket costs to scholarships.
“For a lot of kids who come to college without family wear-with-alls, I think it’s very appropriate to do it,” Martin said.
He added that the Big Ten Conference had already started discussing the addition of $2,000 for out-of-pocket expenses before the Knight Commission suggested it. However, Martin said there are several questions that need to be asked regarding the out-of-pocket compensation, like whether it would only apply to scholarship athletes. He said this is a “Title IX issue” since some scholarship sports are exclusively for males or females. Title IX is a federal law, which states that federally funded teams require equal treatment based on gender, including scholarship money.
“That’s a significant bottleneck on this, and I don’t know how it’s going to be resolved,” Martin said.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.