The sweeping academic changes that will be put into effect for the Class of 2016 have been written about quite a bit during this offseason.
If you haven’t heard about them, they are as follows: the minimum GPA for the 16 required core courses was bumped up to a 2.3 from a 2.0, while 10 of those 16 core courses are required to be completed by the end of the athlete’s junior year. It doesn’t sound like much — banging out a C+ instead of a C shouldn’t really be all that difficult — but they are significant in the fact that there are quite a few college athletes who gained initial eligibility by the skin of their teeth or load up on core courses in their senior year to make up for spending their first three years of goofing off.
The NCAA estimated that 43.1% of the men’s basketball players that entered college in 2009 would not have been eligible in 2016. Let’s assume that number is accurate for every incoming class, and two starters on every team in the country would not have been eligible as freshmen.
That’s a huge number.
It’s concerning enough that, among other, John Bruno, a member of the NCAA’s Academic Cabinet, questioned whether or not this could lead to an inferior product for the college hoops and, more importantly, if the people who make money off of college athletics — ESPN is mentioned — would play a role in getting these players cleared. “There are forces at work that would like for these rules to not be as strict,” Bruno said.
I tend to agree with John Infante here. I don’t think this will have an effect on the number of waivers approved by the NCAA or on the overall product as a whole. He makes a point that is inarguable: the eligibility changes will only keep kids off the court for their first year in college, not permanently.
But there is more to it than that.
First of all, at least on the basketball side, the players that are good enough that they can draw ratings on their own are, generally speaking, known quantities by the time they are freshmen in high school. That’s part of the reason Anthony Davis is such an incredible story. He grew eight inches during high school and went from an unknown guard on a bad high school team to a future all-pro. He’s an aberration, not the norm.
In other words, the best players in the Class of 2016 already know they are going to be playing college basketball down the road and, if they are doing their due diligence, know that changes have been made and that they must adjust accordingly. Will there be players that end up sitting out a year at some of the best programs in the country? Yes, but I think it’s fair to say they would have ended up ineligible regardless of whether or not a change was made. Some kids just don’t care about school, and there is no changing that.
Where I think the bigger impact will be seen is at the lower levels of Division I hoops. Those are the kids that won’t have advisors guiding them through their high school careers, who may not have given any thought to getting eligible until they start getting scholarship offers later on in high school.
College basketball pales in comparison to college football when it comes to TV ratings, and mid-major hoops — even the less-distinguished high-major programs — pales in comparison to the elite programs when it comes to the number of eyeballs they can get on a television broadcast. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that college basketball’s regular season becomes more and more irrelevant to television executives by the year. There’s a reason that the Big East’s basketball schools will never be able to remain as relevant as they are now if they broke off and started a new hoops conference.
Simply put, with four years to prepare for the changes, I don’t think these changes will have a major effect on college basketball.