Plan could help athletes graduate

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The Atlantic Coast Conference has
proposed making football players eligible to compete for five
years, saying the extra season might allow some students to get
their degrees rather than leave school early.

The NCAA will vote on the proposal no earlier than April 2005,
said Shane Lyons, the ACC's associate commissioner.

"Many students who have exhausted eligibility have to make a
decision about whether they pursue their professional or athletic
career without getting their education," Lyons said in a phone
interview Tuesday. "We believe it's more likely that student
athletes will return if they still have that eligibility."

The ACC, which proposed the rule to the NCAA earlier this month,
suggested that the NCAA eliminate redshirt seasons, when players
are on the team but don't play. A redshirt season does not count
toward eligibility.

About 70 percent of college football players are redshirted,
Lyons said.

The proposal shouldn't increase costs because the scholarship
limit will remain at 85, he said. "The pool of athletes may be
around a year longer than they are now," he said.

The average student, not just one who plays sports, takes 4.8
years to graduate, said Lyons, citing an NCAA study. In addition,
the NCAA's new academic standards are based on five years for a
degree, he said.

The National Association of Basketball Coaches has proposed
similar legislation for men's and women's basketball players. The
American Football Coaches Association has supported the legislation
for several years, Lyons said.