New eligibility standards on the way

Prepare to add a new term to your recruiting and college sports vernacular: academic redshirt.

Thanks to the implementation of the most stringent initial-eligibility requirements ever, the term is every bit as powerful as the name suggests, and it's coming in 2016.

Sound a long way off? It was almost here sooner, but last week, the NCAA's Division I Board of Directors, an 18-member panel of university presidents, delayed the rule by one year. Legislation passed in October called for the new standards to take effect in August 2015, creating these academic redshirts.

That was too soon.

Consider that at Auburn this summer, athletic department personnel will travel to Mobile, Ala., Birmingham, Ala., Atlanta, anywhere nearby where people will listen, to deliver the message about what's coming.

"There's no doubt it's a huge change," said Auburn senior associate athletics director Rich McGlynn, a former NCAA staffer.

I think it's a good standard. I totally understand why they're doing it. They want kids to be academically prepared to succeed in college. That makes sense.

-- Auburn senior associate athletics director Rich McGlynn

For the class of college athletes who will enroll in 2016 -- these students will start high school in a few months -- the changes are, indeed, significant. Current initial-eligibility standards require entering freshmen to graduate high school with 16 core courses passed and a minimum 2.0 GPA matched with an ACT or SAT score on a sliding scale.

The 2016 standards mandate the same 16 core courses but stipulate that 10 must be completed by the start of the student's senior year of high school and that all 16 are finished in four years. So effectively say goodbye to the practice popular in basketball of reclassifying to enjoy a fifth year of high school.

And the minimum GPA jumps to 2.3.

A survey conducted by the NCAA indicated that of all freshmen football players to enroll at Division I schools last fall, approximately 40 percent would have failed to meet the 2016 requirements.

Forty percent. Meet your academic redshirts.

By definition, an academic redshirt is a student-athlete, in 2016 and beyond, who meets the old eligibility requirements but not the new standards. An academic redshirt can receive a scholarship and practice with the team but cannot participate in games.

It harkens to the days of partial qualifiers, a byproduct of Proposition 48, enacted in 1985, and its successor, Prop 16. Partial qualifiers, who met only some of the criteria required by the former eligibility requirements, could practice as freshmen but couldn't play.

One major difference between academic redshirts of the future and partial qualifiers of the past: Academic redshirts don't lose a year of eligibility. After their first year in college, academic redshirts are left with four years to play four seasons; partial qualifiers had four to play three.

And as long as the academic redshirt passes nine credit hours in his first semester (or eight quarter hours), the athlete is eligible to continue practicing for the remainder of the first year and play the next season as a redshirt freshman.

"I don't think it's too much to ask," said football coach Ed Croson of Chaminade College Preparatory in West Hills, Calif.

A few other questions and issues involved with the new requirements:

• Last July to open the SEC football media days, league commissioner Mike Slive outlined a proposal that had many similarities to the NCAA's new requirements for 2016, announced mere months later. Coincidence?

Yes, said Colorado professor David Clough, president of the NCAA's Faculty Athletics Representatives Association. This legislation was in the works long before last summer, Clough said, spurred by the NCAA's academic cabinet and the committee on academic performance.

"I respect the position of the SEC and its commissioner," Clough said, "but this wasn't a quick response."

• Considering the limited contact college coaches are allowed with prospects, especially prior to late in their junior years, is the NCAA asking too much of the high schools?

Some believe so, including first-year Southern Miss coach Ellis Johnson.

"The end result, guys will step up, and we'll move along," Johnson said. "But I don't know about their objective -- if it's to cut out guys or to get them more prepared."

Johnson, who has yet to coach a game at Southern Miss, already feels the kind of pressure that makes coaches wary of changes that potentially limit their pool of recruits. Three years from now, a coach will have to factor the impact of academic redshirts as he builds a recruiting class.

"If you're a good player, you're going to be recruited," said Auburn's McGlynn. "I don't think you're going to see a huge shift in the manner in which kids get recruited. I do think you're going to see a shift in education and information flow from universities down to high schools."

• Will conferences and school restrict academic redshirts?

It's possible. The Big 12 and SEC denied partial qualifiers. Administrators in the SEC and Pac-12 said they expect to see it on the agenda for discussion well before 2016.

At the Big 12 meetings this week in Phoenix, administrators were already talking about the eligibility changes. Stay tuned.

• Back to that 40 percent figure. It's eye-popping, for sure. Should we expect those numbers in the future?

No, that number is a bit misleading, said Clough, the Colorado professor and faculty rep.

"What the 2016 implementation is allowing is for there to be a response," Clough said. "Whenever you raise the bar, people tend to do their best to meet it. I would anticipate there will be a significant number for whom the academic redshirt applies, but it won't be anywhere near that [40 percent] number."

So hopes the NCAA. The goal with this latest set of changes is clear -- to better prepare athletes for the academic rigors of college.
The NCAA recommends that high school students who aspire to compete in intercollegiate athletics register with the NCAA Eligibility Center after two years of high school. Academic advisers also often recommend that students first take the SAT or ACT in the fall of their junior years.

It's hardly too soon to begin the education process for soon-to-be high school freshmen about the 2016 changes. They're already making choices that will affect their ability to meet the new standards.

"This will benefit kids who plan ahead and work harder from the start, or families who plan ahead and work hard from the start," said Croson, who formerly coached nine years at Birmingham Community Charter High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
"But for a large percentage who are not tuned into academics like that, it's a tough fight."

No doubt, it's a complex issue.

"It's technical," said McGlynn. "I had to read it multiple times to really get the difference between a qualifier and a redshirt. I do this for a living and, heck, I worked at the NCAA. But I think it's a good standard. I totally understand why they're doing it. They want kids to be academically prepared to succeed in college. That makes sense."