Assigned Reading: Eligibility vs. Academic Preparedness

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Dana O’Neil of ESPN.com took a long — and very well done — look into the new rule changes that will be taking effect in 2016.

If you haven’t heard about them yet, the changes are fairly simple to understand: to play college sports, you need at least a 2.3 GPA (up from 2.0) in 16 core courses. In addition, you need a qualifying SAT or ACT score (for a kid with a 2.5 GPA, an SAT of 1,000 is the standard) and must have at least 10 of the 16 core courses finished by the start of their senior year.

At the heart of O’Neil’s story is the dilemma that the NCAA faces with these increased standards. Will these changes foster more academic preparedness for potential athletes or will it simply result in more players being forced to somehow fudge their transcripts to pass the NCAA’s Clearinghouse? Will this year’s class of incoming  high school freshmen know that they need to start preparing for college eligibility from the second they step foot in high school, or will they be shocked in two years when they find out there is almost no chance of being initially eligible? Does the (poorly structured in its own right) APR create an instance of double-jeopardy?

And most importantly, will it leave anyone eligible? O’Neil gives a harrowing stat in the story — 43.2% of the basketball players that enrolled in college in 2009 would have been ineligible in 2016, and that includes the Ivy League, the Patriot League, and schools like Northwestern, Stanford and Duke. It makes you wonder how many top 100 recruits will actually be allowed to play collegiately.

The intentions here are noble, and requiring potential college athletes to better prepare themselves academically is not a bad thing. My biggest concern is simply that it leaves no room for reform.

What happens with a kid that doesn’t realize he’s got a chance to be a scholarship player for the first two years he’s in high school? What happens if he’s too far behind to fulfill his core class requirements? What if he gets bad advice from a guidance counselor? What if he loves math and sciences but despises english and history?

Here’s an idea: the way the current rule is set up, anyone that is ineligible in 2016 but would have been eligible in years prior is allowed to be on scholarship, take classes but redshirt. What if the kid had a chance to prove his academic merit by taking summer courses at an NCAA facility during the summer? Instead of forcing them to sit out a season, why not test them to see just how much they care about being a student-athlete, and not just an athlete.

People can change. Girls that were ignored in high school can become knockouts when they graduate college. Athletes that didn’t think they cared about sports as sophomores can compete for scholarships as seniors. And kids that didn’t put much effort into their books as freshmen can realize that they want more out of life by the time they reach the end of high school.

I’m just spitballing here, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with giving them a second chance at being eligible right away.

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