Academic reforms are good, but what are the side effects?

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Earlier on Tuesday afternoon, Dana O’Neil of ESPN.com broke down the academic reforms that the NCAA ratified back in October. The system isn’t exactly being overhauled, but there will be some significant changes that are made. Here is a list of the changes that will be implemented, beginning in 2015:

– Incoming freshmen will be required to have taken 16 core courses: four years of English; three years of math (higher than Algebra I); two years of science; two years of social science; one additional year English, math or science; and four additional years from the subjects listed or foreign language, philosophy or comparative religion. Of those 16 core courses, ten must be completed before the student-athlete begins their senior season. The latter change is an effort to prevent players from loading up on core classes in the summer after their senior season in an effort to get eligible.

– The players must have a GPA of 2.3 or higher in those 16 core courses in order to be eligible, which is bumped up from a 2.0. If the player has a GPA between 2.0 and 2.3 in those core courses, they will be considered an “academic redshirt”, meaning that are allowed to practice with the team but cannot participate in competition for the first semester of their freshmen year in college.

– The requirements for a JuCo transfer are even more difficult. The GPA for transferrable credits will be raised from 2.0 to 2.5, which is higher than the initial eligibility requirements for freshman and higher than just about every university’s requirements for maintaining eligibility once they are enrolled in college.

The result?

It will be that much more difficult for players to get eligible, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Forcing these kids to be better prepared for the rigors of collegiate academia should mean that all the athletes that will go pro in something other than sports will be ready to handle a heavier workload and more involved classes.

O’Neil did a great job breaking down some of the issues involved in this change, touching on everything from the problems with getting word to guidance counselors and high school coaches about the changes to the “cottage industry” that is prep school, even touching on the problem of valuing just how impressive a 2.3 GPA is. Like it or not, it’s tougher to get a 2.3 GPA at one of the nation’s best private schools than it is at some of the most messed up public schools.

The one issue she didn’t comment on, however, was the likely increase in academic fraud that will result.

You don’t have to search that hard to find instances where high school stars got a little home-cooking on their grades in high school. Derrick Rose had someone else take his SAT and it cost Memphis their trip to the national title game in 2008. Darrell Arthur had red flags raised from his time in high school. Tony Mitchell ended up at North Texas and not Missouri because of the question marks surrounding his high school transcript.

And those are only the kids that got found out.

In my mind, the biggest problem will be with the kids that are right on the cut line.

There are always going to be athletes that simply don’t care enough about their grades to get eligible at the college level, whether they need a 2.0 GPA or a 2.3 GPA. And there are also kids that are good enough on the court and in the class room that they will be able to meet any academic standard.

But what about the kids that fall into the middle of those two groups?

Think about it like this: You’ve got a kid whose grades are just good enough to keep him eligible at the high school level. He’s not a good enough prospect to warrant consideration from high-major programs, but he is good enough that schools at the lower end of Division I are willing to give him a scholarship. He can’t afford to pay for college on his own, meaning that his only option for higher education is to get it paid for because he can hoop. But with the higher academic standards — maybe because he was unaware of his potential to earn a scholarship, he only took nine core courses in his first three years; or maybe he has a 1.8 GPA in his core courses and a 2.3 GPA overall — his prospects of earning a scholarship out of high school are slim.

Does he go to Junior College, where he’ll have to be an even better student to have a chance at getting to a four-year school?

Academic reform is not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. Forcing kids to learn will mean they are better prepared to be a productive member of society once their athletic career comes to a close.

But the higher academic standards will also create more room for the kids that are borderline athletes and borderlines students to fall through the cracks, and in the end, aren’t those the kids that need these athletic scholarships the most?

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.