Around the country, potential college athletes entering their first year of high school are doing so with new NCAA requirements hanging over their heads. The collegiate freshman class of 2016 -- meaning students who are beginning their freshmen year in high schools this fall -- will be required to finish 10 core courses before the beginning of their senior year of high school. This is a departure from the past, when students who had faltered (or just plain not done their work) could race to the finish in their final year of high school. The NCAA also bumped the minimum required core course GPA to 2.3, from 2.0, and lifted the minimum GPA for junior college transfers from 2.3 to 2.5.
While these may seem like incremental changes, they are in fact rather sweeping, especially considering the clock begins ticking immediately. Your friendly neighborhood ESPN.com college hoops reporters -- led by Dana O'Neil's reporting -- covered these reforms from a score of angles earlier this offseason. I spent time talking to a variety of secondary educators, from teachers at resource-strapped schools to administrators and coaches at elite high school outfits, to get a feel for the challenges they'll face in quickly bringing new students up to date. For some, this represents a monumental task, which is why the NCAA estimates that 43.1 percent of men's basketball players who enrolled in 2009-10 would not meet the 2016 academic standards. Whether you agree with the changes or not -- and many high school folks seem to agree that a 2.3 core-course GPA is fully achievable, provided everyone understands the requirements -- it is still a huge change.
It also, apparently, has collegiate faculty concerned. On the first day of Division I faculty representatives and athletics directors meetings in Grapevine, Texas, some faculty athletics representatives expressed the same concerns we heard often this summer, most frequently from coaches -- that the change would lead to a massive wave of players being ineligible in 2016:
As a member of the NCAA’s Academic Cabinet, John Bruno, the faculty athletics representative at Ohio State University, believes in the need for tougher academic standards for incoming athletes. But during Sunday’s meeting, he questioned whether the NCAA would face a barrage of waivers to prevent that from happening. Others questioned if ESPN and the other television networks are ready for a potentially watered-down spectacle. “There are forces at work that would like for these rules to not be as strict,” Bruno said.
That seems a bit overblown, even conspiratorial. And yes, full disclosure, I (obviously) write for ESPN ... but I find it hard to believe any television network, ESPN or not, would be able to exert influence over individual academics decisions made by the NCAA Eligibility Center. That's not naïveté. It's just realistic. The rule is in place, and there's no going back now.
Bylaw Blog's John Infante, the Internet's go-to expert for all matters related to NCAA eligibility, responded today:
Many more initial eligibility waivers may be filed in August 2016, but that does not mean the NCAA has to approve. And between the combination of kids who “find a way” no matter what the requirements are and the fact that the new rules will not (or at least should not) keep prospects from enrolling in college, the long-term impact to the on-field or on-court product is likely to be minimal.
That seems more reasonable to me. There are major concerns about the class of 2016, and there may be a host of kids who didn't get the memo until it was too late. But it's still four years off. Coaches and athletics administrators at both the collegiate and high school level have every reason -- self-interest and the interests of their kids -- to make sure everybody understands what's required of them before there's no going back. And once that process begins, and the word is spread, and following classes have more time to realize the situation, the standards will become accepted and widely known.
At least, that's the goal. The first and most important step is awareness. The clock is already ticking.