NCAA Academic Reforms: Maintaining the Balance between Academics and Athletics

Article excerpt

The proper niche of intercollegiate athletics in higher education has been a topic of debate for decades. Issues stemming from lack of institutional control over athletics programs, unethical conduct by institutional-staff members, academic scandals, and so on have cast a negative light on college sports. Criticism abounds about how our institutions of higher education can change the culture of intercollegiate athletics and make it compatible with each institution's mission. Some contend that sports and higher education will never be compatible. Others believe that more restrictions--more rules to catch the perennial "cheaters"--will help "legislate" ethics. Integrity then will be restored, if indeed it has been missing.

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Inextricably involved in this controversy are the academic/athletic advisors who have, perhaps, one of the most challenging jobs in higher education. Their primary concern is the integrity of their institutions and the welfare of student-athletes. They act as liaisons between the academic and athletics communities and are primarily responsible for ensuring that student-athletes have as much academic success as their ability can afford. However, many people view academic/athletic advisors as eligibility brokers, those who keep student-athletes eligible to play. In reality, the only ones who can keep the student-athletes eligible are student-athletes themselves.

THE NCAA AND ACADEMIC REFORM

In the past few years, the governing body of intercollegiate athletics, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), under the leadership of Dr. Myles Brand, former president of Indiana University, has undertaken initiatives to institute academic reforms that hold student-athletes more accountable for their progress toward a degree. A brief summary of pertinent legislation will be helpful in understanding the reforms.

Mandatory Academic Support for Student-Athletes

In January 1991, the NCAA Division I membership adopted a proposal mandating academic counseling and tutoring services for all Division I student-athletes. The supported premise was that an institution that recruits student-athletes should give them an opportunity to receive a full educational experience, not solely an athletics one. Basically, the objective was to maximize the academic performance of all student-athletes.

During the next eleven years, the list of approved academic services expanded to include counseling services for career awareness, eating disorders, and other areas, and beginning in 2002 institutions were permitted to finance any academic-support services determined to be appropriate and necessary for student-athletes' academic success (for example, life skills, assessment of learning disabilities) (NCAA Division I Academic Reform Initiatives--Academic Support Discussion Document, April 16, 2004).

Initial Eligibility Legislation and Graduation Rates

While mandating academic counseling and tutoring services for all Division I student-athletes, the NCAA has also over the years instituted abundant academic legislation. Proposition 48 (requiring high school graduates to have a 2.00 GPA in eleven academic-core courses and a minimum SAT score of 700 or ACT of 15) caused controversy when introduced in 1986, as did Proposition 16 (using a sliding scale of grade points and SAT scores to determine initial eligibility, including a minimum of 820 on the SAT and a 2.0 GPA). NCAA Bylaw 14.3.1.1.1 has caused similar controversy. It states that student-athletes first entering a collegiate institution on or after August 1, 2003, need to meet the requirements on the "Initial Eligibility Index." This index allows college coaches in every sport to recruit high school athletes who achieved no better than a 400 on their SAT if they have a 3.55 or above high school GPA.

Although Proposition 48 succeeded in increasing graduation rates among all athletes, no data have yet been collected on the effects of Bylaw 14. …

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