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Mar 6, 2015 6:41 PM

Experts make case for freshmen eligibility tied to academics

The Associated Press

Now that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany has started a conversation about limiting freshmen eligibility, there are plenty of ways it can go.

Delany's idea of requiring football and men's basketball players to sit out their first seasons on campus is highly unlikely to gain the widespread approval it would need to become NCAA law. Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive gave it a thumbs down earlier this week. But a rule requiring freshmen in all sports who fail to meet certain academic benchmarks to take a year off from competition to get caught up in the classroom could work, according to those who have worked in college athletics.

"The original sin of college athletics is bringing in kids who are academically unprepared," said David Ridpath, associate professor of sports management at Ohio University and former president of the Drake Group.

Ridpath and the Drake Group believe freshmen eligibility should be tied to a student-athlete's academic profile.

Donna Lopiano, a former director of women's athletics at Texas and founder of Sports Management Resources, said universities and colleges should be allowed to admit students who fall below usual admittance standards. But then it is the school's responsibility to help that student catch-up.

"They should support you in terms of a scholarship so that you can do a year of remediation and you don't have to work," she said. "You should have required academic skill and learning disability testing. You should have a supervised remediation program.

"You should have hour restrictions from participation in practice and other activities so you can do your remediation. And there probably should be tenured faculty oversight of your academic progress because the potential for exploitation here is huge."

Next year the NCAA's new tougher academic requirements for initial eligibility for incoming student-athletes go into effect. Slive said until the impact of those new standards can be studied, no new rules should be passed regarding freshmen eligibility.

The Drake Group, an NCAA watchdog group and college sports think tank, has a proposal it considers a better alternative to Delany's idea.

The Drake Group plan would deny freshman eligibility to all Division I athletes whose combined standardized test scores and high school grade-point averages fall below one standard deviation of the mean academic profile of their school's incoming class. Those athletes would also be limited to 10 hours of practice time per week. Typically, when athletes sit out a season as a redshirt, they are only prohibited from playing games.

"The year of residence, for it to be successful for people who need that academic remediation, the athletics portion has to be significantly reduced, too," Ridpath added. "What a redshirt is for is to get you more athletically ready. We want to do both."

Dan Beebe, who was commissioner of the Big 12 from 2007-2011, said discussions about freshmen ineligibility have been going on for years. Beebe said making incoming student-athletes who are identified as at-risk academically ineligible for competition is a concept he supports. But he's leery of a proposal that sets those standards on a school-by-school basis.

Beebe said that could lead to recruits searching for schools where the academic standards would allow them to play. And how would that play out for both the school where the player would not have been eligible and the school where the player could compete as a freshman?

"There are institutions with varying academic curriculum in the same conference," Beebe said. "I don't think presidents would like that. I don't think the president of the school that gets the kid is going to like all the notoriety about how this kid was within one standard deviation here, but the school that we're trying to act like we're the same as, he couldn't get in there."

Beebe also said academic-based freshmen ineligibility could discourage athletes who are not serious about academics from coming to college not necessarily a bad thing, he said though it wouldn't put an end to one-and-done college basketball players.

The NBA prohibits teams from drafting American players younger than 19 years old and less than a year removed from their high school class' graduation.

There is also some concern about stigmatizing incoming student-athletes who don't make the academic cut.

"There's nothing wrong with sitting to get academically ready to go through college," Ridpath said. "I realize that some of that is going to be there, but I think the alternative is much, much worse."


Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP


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