On Friday the NCAA released a lengthy Education Column in the form of a Q&A regarding the new initial eligibility requirements set to arrive in 2016. Softening the requirements (i.e. removing the roughly .500 core course GPA increase to the sliding scale) did not prevent schools from asking questions. All told, the Ed Column includes 43 questions on three major topics: academic redshirts, the 10 core course requirement before the seventh semester of high school, and the change in how core course GPA will be calculated.
Like any extensive Q&A released by the NCAA, the questions vary in quality from “There are no stupid questions … except for that one” to enlightening nuggets. With so many questions and answers, trends also start to emerge. Most notably is that with the tougher sliding scale now relaxed, the 10 core course requirement seems to be the largest area of worry for member institutions.
Two questions related to that change raise a very good question about the new legislation:
Question No. 14: Does this legislation also apply to student-athletes who have education-impacting disabilities?
That makes sense. There is nothing in the new legislation that exempts students with a diagnosed EID from a requirement or alters a requirement for those students. But just what does that mean?
Question No. 3: If a prospective student-athlete successfully completes six core courses during grade 12 and three core courses after high school graduation, consistent with Bylaw 184.108.40.206.1.2 (exception — students with
education-impacting disabilities), may all nine core courses be used for purposes of the core-course grade-point average calculation?
Answer: No. If a prospective student-athlete successfully completes six core courses during grade 12 and three core courses after high school graduation, consistent with Bylaw 220.127.116.11.1.2, the NCAA Eligibility Center will use the best six of the nine for purposes of the core-course grade-point average calculation, provided they satisfy the core-course distribution. The three courses completed after high school graduation may replace three of the six core courses completed during grade 12 if the letter grades in the courses are more beneficial to the prospective student-athlete’s core-course grade-point average.
This presents two challenges for prospects with education impacting disabilities. First is that they must meet exactly the same 10 course requirement as every other student. Second, the value of the core course time limitation extension granted to EID students is significantly reduced. At this point you may be wonder why no exception for prospects with a diagnosed EID?
It could be an oversight, but that seems unlikely. The legislation has been picked apart and altered twice since it was adopted less than two years ago. A safe assumption is that there are no EID exceptions for a reason. And the best guess about why is the problem of late diagnosis.
A not-uncommon case that the Eligibility Center sees is a student who struggles mightily during his or her first three years of high school. Then sometime just before or even during the prospect’s senior year of high school, he or she gets tested and is diagnosed with an education impacting disability. An education plan with accommodation plans is drawn up and all of the sudden the prospect sets the world on fire. Ds and Cs all become As, test score rise dramatically, and a prospect who looked hopeless qualifies with relative ease.
Some small percentage of these cases are a form of academic fraud. Someone finds a doctor who will make the required diagnosis, the accommodations are a virtual free pass, and the diagnosis is used as justification for simply shuffling the athlete through the system. This is an issue the NCAA has struggled with at the college level as well. But fraud is not a complete explanation for why EIDs did not warrant an exception to the 10 credit requirement.
The bigger issue is the question of whether an athlete with an education impacting disability is truly prepared for college when the diagnosis comes late in his or her high school career. The best way to explain is an example. Say these grades in math courses show up on a prospect’s transcript:
– Algebra 1: C-
– Geometry: D
– Algebra 2: Failed, then D in summer school
– Trig/Pre-Calc: A-
There could be any number of things going on here. In standard cases, it may be that the prospect did not start applying him or herself before senior year. But in the case of a prospect who was diagnosed with an EID before Algebra 2 and Trig/Pre-Calc, we have a trained professional saying that was probably not the case. The athlete really did not grasp those basic building blocks (through no fault of his own). Math, more than subjects like science or social studies, builds heavily on previous knowledge. While the accommodations might have been appropriate, the grade in the final math class might not be an accurate indication of how well the athlete is prepared for college math courses.
Thus the point of holding even EID students to the same requirement. It promotes early attention to academics, not just a prospect’s effort and attitude, but also his or her individual needs. Early diagnosis and accommodation make it more likely that the prospect will learn the fundamentals in these subjects, rather than simply having his or her hand held through the advanced material then sent off to college.
And just because there is no exception for education impacting disabilities do not mean they will be ignored completely. There is still the waiver process, where the NCAA can go over cases on an individual basis and take a finer look at the diagnosis, accommodations, remediation, and future educational plans for the prospect before allowing them to play and travel as freshmen. It might look harsh, but tightening up education impacting disability exceptions specifically in this area might be exactly what many of these prospects need.
The caveat is that the NCAA must be very careful not to allow these rules to become a significant barrier to college themselves. An athlete who fails to meet the new requirements but hits the old standards is still eligible for a scholarship. And the NCAA must be constantly checking the data to confirm the link between early diagnosis of EIDs and greater chances of college graduation and that these rules improve those odds.