As the offseason is winding down, college football is starting to move out of that period every year when it seems the only news is athletes breaking the law, getting suspended, or getting kicked off their teams. Media days are finishing up, athletes are returning to campus, and preseason camps start to kick off around the country.
But college football is not out of the bad-news woods yet. An NCAA rule passed in 2011 that was in effect last year will start to be felt soon, by causing some football players to miss one-third of the season. It remains to be seen how widespread the effect is but it will undoubtedly be felt.
The Nine-Hour Rule
The rule the NCAA added last year is Bylaw 126.96.36.199.6:
In football, a student-athlete who is a member of the institution’s football team and who does not successfully complete at least nine semester hours or eight quarter hours of academic credit during the fall term and earn the Academic Progress Rate eligibility point for the fall term shall not be eligible to compete in the first four contests against outside competition in the following playing season.
In short, it says that if a football scholarship athlete does not pass nine credits (eight at a quarter school) in the fall or does not meet any other eligibility criteria after the fall will be suspended for the first four games of the following year. The reason this was put into place was because one of the major academic issues the APR discovered in football was that many football players were falling ineligible after the fall. Instead of getting ahead during the spring and summer, they were playing catch-up. Throw in the number of football players who do not return to school for the spring after their eligibility is up and it explained a significant chunk of football’s low graduation rates.
The reason this did not come up after the fall was that there is an exception for football players to regain eligibility in Bylaw 188.8.131.52.6.2:
One time during a student-athlete’s five-year period of eligibility, a student-athlete who does not successfully complete at least nine semester hours or eight quarter hours of academic credit during the fall term or earn the Academic Progress Rate eligibility point for the fall term may regain eligibility to compete in the first four contests against outside competition in the following playing season, provided he or she successfully completes at least 27 semester hours or 40 quarter hours of academic credit before the beginning of the next fall term.
Normally athletes have to pass six credits each semester and average 24 credits every year. So the 27 hour requirement to regain eligibility makes sense: if you didn’t get ahead by three hours in the fall as required, you have to get ahead by three hours over the course of the year. If a football player falls into this situation again, he can regain eligibility the same way, but only the third and fourth game, not all four after the first time.
Because this was the first year of the new bylaw, every athlete has a chance to regain full eligibility. That’s one reason there was no word about suspensions after the fall, because no athlete’s suspension was set in stone. It is only now, after summer school, that players are out of opportunities to lift their suspensions if they did not pass nine hours last fall.
So How Many?
The question now is how many football players will this affect. While there might be some teams that have significant losses as a result (say more than a couple players on the two-deep), most teams should not be significantly hampered as a result. Assuming players who failed to meet the nine hour standard got at least six (required to play in a bowl game), earning 27 hours takes some effort but it is doable. If an athlete had less than six hours after the fall, other eligibility rules were probably going to trip him up.
Regardless of whether you agree with the rule or not, one of the more disappointing aspects is that we will probably never know how many athletes were affected. If an athlete is ineligible for the full year, it is hard to explain that away, so the athlete is publicly listed as ineligible. But a four-game suspension could be for anything, so many of these athletes will be cited for mysterious “violations of team rules”. Not to mention that some athletes will simply be kicked off the team either now or back in the spring for failing to remain eligible for the full season.
Ideally though, there are no suspensions. The point of the new rule was not to suspend football players. It was to encourage them to take academics more seriously in the fall by creating a eligibility consequence the following year. So in a perfect world, we would hear absolutely nothing about this rule over the next few weeks.
What do you think about the new 9-hour rule? Will it help motivate athletes to stay on top of their academics? Let us know in the comments section below, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+!