Schools are coming down to the wire to get athletes through the NCAA Eligibility Center in time for fall seasons and the start of school. Practice for most fall sports has started and classes will begin over the next week or so for many semester schools. Syracuse is wondering whether two players will be eligible for a foreign trip to Canada. West Virginia has hired Mike Glaizer, one of the biggest names in the college sports law realm to help with an initial eligibility case for a football player.
Part of the everlasting frustration with the Eligibility Center involves timing. The EC has two certification seasons: fall and mid-year. Certifications occur year-round, but the vast majority of athletes are certified around the traditional start of a semester. And of those athletes, the bulk are certified for the fall semester. Tens of thousands of athletes have to be cleared between their high school graduation (mostly in June) and the start of preseason practice or the school year (mostly in August). This leads to the crush the Eligibility Center feels between the end of June through August into September.
This year, the NCAA has gotten much more open with its members about the state of the Eligibility Center backlog. The NCAA has sent out almost daily updates of how long files are waiting to be reviewed. Earlier this week the EC went so far as to offer data-based projections about clearing the caseload. The wait time has held steady at approximately two weeks for much of the summer, and the projection shows the NCAA expects that wait to continue through the rest of the fall certification season.
The wait time is defined as how long it takes a prospect’s file to be reviewed once it is deemed “Ready to Process-Final” or RTP-F. To earn this designation, a prospect must have sent a final high school transcript with proof of graduation, an SAT or ACT score, completed the amateurism questionnaire, and requested final certification. That date determines where in the queue that file is. The one exception is if a university adds the prospect to their Institutional Request List or IRL after the file is RTP-F. In that case, the date used to prioritize cases is the IRL date.
As of today, the Eligibility Center is working on cases that were ready to process on July 31 or August 1. So prospects who were on the ball and got their documents in right after graduation are not waiting at this point. The EC also has two different priority certification systems, one for urgent requests (a decision needed in the next three days) and one for really urgent requests (a decision needed within one day). So if an athlete needs to be certified for competition, running out of pre-certification practice days, or to register for classes, the NCAA can accomodate those requests.
The big caveat is that this applies to the initial review of standard domestic cases only. Home school students, international students, PSA Review, and reviewing files that have already gotten a look are all different queues. Those may be reasons an athlete who is still trying to get through the Eligibility Center might still be waiting.
From an outsider’s persepective, this looks to be a massive improvement over the early days of the Eligibility Center. Institutions have known for quite a while that it takes two weeks to get a file reviewed. If an athlete misses practice or competition because they have not gotten even a first review of their file, at least part of the blame rests with someone other than the EC. And in those cases, institutions now have an urgent request system to work with, although I cannot speak to how effective that system is.
The Eligibility Center always has to be getting faster, more accurate, better organized, and more consistent. But in 2013, at least when it comes to issues of timing and waiting, the EC appears to have at least achieved predictability. If an athlete gets his or her information in by date X, they will wait Y business days and be reviewed on date Z. If that math does not work for the school, there is at least an option to object, if not resolve the issue entirely. Like many bureaucracies, it is almost more important for the Eligibility Center to fail in an expected manner than for it to work properly.