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Division II’s Eligibility Package Moves Closer to DI

While Division I has been busy with a now-downsized change to initial eligibility rules, Division II has been even busier. The Division II Academic Task Force has put forth their own set of recommendations for academic reform. And in addition to initial eligibility changes, the task force also has a set of recommendations for two-year college transfers and continuing eligibility.

Division II’s academic rules are generally considered to be less stringent than Division I’s. They are also older, having been revised much less often and less comprehensively than Division I’s. But if these changes, which should become formal proposals during the 2013-14 legislative cycle, are adopted, Division II’s academic standards will either become more similar to Division I’s and in some cases even more rigorous.

Initial Eligibility

Current Division II requires that prospects pass 16 core courses (starting this year), achieve a minimum 2.000 GPA, and earn either an 820 SAT or 68 sum ACT score. Prospects who meet the core course requirements and either the GPA or test score standard are partial qualifiers. All other prospects are nonqualifier.

Under the proposed standard, Division II will adopt a sliding scale similar to Division I, where a higher GPA requires a lower test score to qualify. The sliding scale for qualifiers will be keyed to a minimum 2.200 GPA, while the scale for partial qualifiers will be keyed to a minimum 2.000 GPA.

NCAA research shows this will expand access to education, especially for minorities, while not adversely impacting (even improving) graduation rates). Currently a large group of “likely graduates” are deemed non- or partial qualifiers because of the SAT/ACT floor.

Two-Year College Transfers

Division II will continue its policy of allowing any junior college transfers who has earned his or her associates degree to be immediately eligible (assuming one academic year of attendance). This is in contrast to Division I, where graduating from the junior college is often a necessary conditioning of eligibility, but is never sufficient on its own.

Qualifiers who have never attended a four-year college (2-4 qualifier transfers) will need to pass 12 transferrable credits per term of attendance at the junior college and earn a 2.200 GPA. Qualifiers who previously attended a four-year college (4-2-4 transfers), all partial qualifiers, and all nonqualifiers will need to pass 12 transferrable credits per term, attend the junior college for at least one academic year, earn three science credits, and earn a 2.200 GPA. In both cases, JC transfers may only use two physical education credits.

Continuing Eligibility

At the moment, Division II uses what have to be considered more lenient continuing eligibility rules than Division I. Division II has the same requirements of six credits per term and 18 credits per regular academic year. But Division II has no percentage of degree requirement, and allows athletes to average the credit hours instead of earning 24 each year.

In the proposed standard, athletes would need to earn 9 hours each term and 27 each year, with no averaging. The escalation of GPA requirements (from 1.800 to 1.900 to 2.000 after the first, second, and third year) to a straight 2.000 after the first year and each term thereafter. There would still be no percentage of degree requirement, but after the sophomore year all credits would need to apply to the athlete’s major.

Comparison with Division I

The changes to initial eligibility and two-year transfer rules track the Division I changes that have been enacted in recent years although not to the same extent. Division II is adopting some version of the following Division I rules:

  • Sliding GPA/test score scale;
  • Higher minimum GPA for qualifiers;
  • Higher minimum GPA for two-year college transfers;
  • Required science courses for 2-4 transfers; and
  •  Limit on physical education courses for 2-4 transfers.

While not Division II’s intent, the task force working on the project acknowledged that this prevents Division II from simply being a refuge for unprepared or poor students:

“I don’t think we want Division II to be the division of last resort, particularly when it comes to academic success,” [Nebraska-Kearney Chancellor Doug] Kristensen said.

The contrasts with Division I start with the continuing eligibility rules. Requiring more credits per term, more credits per year, and a higher GPA, ( GPA Calculator), sooner in an athlete’s career makes the proposed DII rules arguably more difficult to meet than Division I’s. The task force declined to add yet another requirement which would have brought the proposal closer to DI rules, a 60% degree completion requirement after the junior year.

The process of selling these rules to the membership is also off to a better start than Division I’s changes, particularly Division I’s initial eligibility changes that have been rolled back. The research the task force used has been made public more quickly than in Division I. Every objection to these proposals is addressed, even if some critics still disagree with them.

All told, the proposals are an integrated package that address the preparation of student-athletes coming to Division II and their path to (hopefully sooner) graduation. The changes are rooted in extensive research and the conclusions of the task force seem reasonable and take into account many outside factors, including even university funding. Any academic rule change leads to a fight, but these should make it through to be adopted at the NCAA Convention in January.

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