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Could Division II’s Academic Ideas Work in Division I?

NCAA Division I has a big change coming to initial eligibility in 2016. But in Division II, the focus is on both initial eligibility for freshmen and progress-toward-degree rules for continuing students and transfers. Division II will work on these concepts over the next year and potentially vote on legislation in January 2014.

Initially, a major change was considered for DII’s initial eligibility rules. Research showed that student-athletes with a 2.200 core course GPA out of high school graduated at roughly the same rate as current DII qualifiers, regardless of test score. That could have lead to test scores being dropped entirely in the DII initial eligibility process. But the DII Academic Requirements Task Force decided not to move forward with that idea.

Major changes to DII’s continuing eligibility rules are still on the table. They would strengthen DII’s eligibility rules, and remain relatively easy to track. The big question is whether Division I, with its maze of progress-toward-degree rules, should consider the changes as well.

The Current Rules

Here is as brief a summary as possible of the current Division I progress-toward-degree rules:

  • Pass six hours every semester;
  • Pass 18 hours every academic year;
  • Pass 24 hours after freshman year;
  • Declare a major before junior year;
  • Meet degree percentages before junior, senior, and fifth year (40/60/80);
  • Meet GPA requirements before sophomore year and beyond (90%/95%/100% of required GPA for graduation); and
  • Maintain good academic standing.

The Division II rules are significantly easier to follow:

  • Pass six hours every semester;
  • Pass 24 hours every year;
  • Pass 75% of required hours during the regular academic year;
  • Declare a major before junior year;
  • Meet GPA requirements before sophomore year and beyond (1.8/1.9/2.0); and
  • Maintain good academic standing.

Both Divisions I and II have different hours requirements for quarter schools. The biggest difference between the two is the lack of a degree percentage requirement and a more flexible approach to credit hour requirements in Division II.

The Proposal

This is the current idea for a new continuing academic eligibility system in Division II:

  • Pass nine hours every semester;
  • Pass 27 hours in both freshman and sophomore year;
  • Declare a major before junior year;
  • Meet 60% degree progress before senior year; and
  • Meet GPA requirements before sophomore year or beyond (either same scale as now or potentially just 2.0).

How the New System Would Work in Division I

For Division II schools, the new requirements are almost all either the same or higher than existing rules. The lone exception is eliminating any difference between summer and academic year credit. In Division I, this system would also remove two degree progress checks (40% and 80%). So it is a blend of higher credit hour requirements and fewer degree percentage checks.

Requiring student-athletes to pass nine hours each semester is already beginning to creep into Division I. Football players must pass nine hours in the fall semester. And in 2016, academic redshirts (a.k.a. partial qualifiers) will need to pass nine hours in the fall to continue practicing with the team in the spring. As more and more student-athletes fall under some exception to the standard six hour rule, it makes increasingly more sense to just make the exception the rule.

A 27-hour rule would be similar, although it is a much smaller exception at the moment. Currently only football players who failed to pass nine hours in the fall (and are thus suspended for the first four games of the following season) are required to pass 27 total during that year (to regain eligibility for all or two of those four games). Eliminating the 18-hour rule makes sense because it would be redundant in many cases if student-athletes are required to earn nine hours each semester.

The big easing of requirements would be the elimination of the 40% and 80% degree progress checks. Getting rid of the 40% degree percentage requirement could reduce clustering since under current rules, student-athletes are required to select a major and show 40% degree progress at the same time. That limits the choice of major unless the student-athlete was focused on a major before the rules required him or her to declare one. It makes more sense to require student-athletes to declare a major, then give them a year to show satisfactory progress toward that major.

The 80% degree percentage check is also somewhat redundant so long as Division I keeps the requirement that after a student-athlete’s sophomore year, the hours used to meet credit hour rules (like the proposed nine-hour rule) must be applicable to his or her degree. A good portion of what the 80% rule requires would be covered by the nine-hour rule.

The big difference though is that a student-athlete would be free to change his or her major after meeting the 60% rule and not have to worry about then meeting the 80% rule. Having got most of the way toward a degree, a student-athlete would be permitted to throw it away and more or less start over.

That could have a major impact on the Academic Progress Rate or APR. That is significant not because maintaining high APR scores is a goal in and of itself. Rather, if the impact on APR is high, student-athletes will be dissuaded from changing their major, meaning one of the potential benefits of the looser degree percentage requirements will not pan out. But if not, it would mean much more flexibility for athletes to craft a degree program that works for them late in their career, and reduce the load on academic advisors.

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