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Academic Eligibility: Athletes Need to Counsel Themselves

The story of Corynne Notz and Calhan High school is a cautionary tale for every prospective student-athlete. Corynne was all set to play her freshman year at Colorado Christian University when the university discovered that two of her courses were not approved by the NCAA. That resulted in Corynne not being certified as a qualifier, and thus not eligible to play as a freshman at CCU.

The reason Corynne was tripped up by the Eligibility Center is a common one. The NCAA’s requirements are not the same as a school’s graduation requirements. Lists of approved courses must be checked and maintained, and documentation with the NCAA kept up to date. Smaller high schools, rural high schools, schools facing budget cuts, and schools that rarely produce college athletes are all more likely to have out-of-date core course lists and less advising targeted at athletes who wish to play in college.

A counselor specifically for athletes who helps select courses, keeps paperwork in line, and communicates regularly with the NCAA is a luxury that is common only in well-funded schools that often send athletes to Division I schools or Division II schools. For most prospects, they will need to do some of the advising themselves and work with the school to make sure the trip through the Eligibility Center is a smooth one. Here are a few tips:

See Who is in Charge

Anyone can look up a school’s list of approved courses. On that list are two additional pieces of information: the contact information for the person responsible for updating the course list and the date it was last updated. Athletes should touch base with this person to make sure they are still the NCAA eligibility contact, and to learn what type of services the school or district provides to athletes. This is especially urgent if the list has not been updated in the last year or two.

Check Your Own Courses

While looking at the course list, athletes should check both their transcript and future schedules against the NCAA approved core course list. Be pessimistic when you do this. If a course is even just named differently or has a different number or code, assume that it will not count unless the list is updated. And if you are behind the NCAA’s regular path (four core courses per year, English and math every year) then contact a counselor right away to fix the problem.

Get Help to Get Help

A counselor might be used to athletes and parents who think they are going to Division I but end up not playing college sports. He or she may be less willing to help out. If that is the case, have the coaches who are recruiting you call the counselor, or enlist the help of your high school coach. This will assure the counselor you are being recruited by schools, and you will need his or her help to get eligible.

Stick to the Basics

Sometimes even the most proactive student can get little or no help with the NCAA’s initial eligibility requirements. If that is the case, fall back on the simplest, most basic schedule. Take an English course, math course, science course, and social studies or foreign language every single term or year (depending on how the school schedules and awards credits). And stick to standard courses like English 2, or Physics rather than Film as Literature or Astronomy. While those courses often count, they are not always on a school’s approved list, especially one that is out-of-date.

Like it says above, these tips are useful for all prospective student-athletes. Even if your high school has a dedicated eligibility counselor for athletes, check your own progress from time to time. A counselor may think they have the process “wired” or figured out, and may miss changes in eligibility rules, not to mention the admissions requirements for specific schools. “Trust but verify” should be the motto of high school athletes when it comes to their academic requirements.

Do you have any questions about your academic eligibility? Just ask us in the comments section below, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+!

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