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Two-Year Colleges Need to Refine Criticism of NCAA

Brad Wolverton of the Chronicle of Higher Education has the latest in a series of pieces by a number of outlets involving criticism of the NCAA’s increased academic requirements for junior college transfers by the two-year college community. Those complaints are myriad, ranging from the requirements themselves to how they were implemented. The problem, as with much criticism of the NCAA, is that illegitimate beefs are mixed in with bona fide concerns about how the NCAA operates.

The complaints from two-year colleges in Wolverton’s article break down into four major categories:

  • Junior college transfers (especially JC nonqualifiers) have higher standards than other student-athletes;
  • New standards will lead to more academic “slight of hand”, if not outright misconduct;
  • The NCAA raised standards too quickly; and
  • The NCAA should introduce an academic “year of readiness”.

Let’s take each of these in turn.

It is undeniable that junior college transfers have higher requirements than other student-athletes. But the NCAA has made it absolutely clear why. Junior college transfers graduate at a lower rate than just about any other cohort. This goes doubly so for JC nonqualifiers, who already missed one set of NCAA benchmarks. The NCAA is treating this population differently, but every bit of data suggests that it is because this population is different. If two-year colleges want their student-athletes to be treated the same, it is incumbent on the two-year college community to explain, preferably with statistical data, why JC transfers are not different or how those differences can be explained or addressed without increased academic standards.

But that community does itself few favors with the second claim. Any standard will lead to some amount of misconduct. And any standard will lead to athletes and advisors seeking the path of least resistance. Higher standards at least raise the lowest bar. Taking three math classes crammed into one is still a better alternative than skipping math altogether and replacing it with physical education courses to boost GPA, which was allowed under the old standards. When junior colleges talk about easing standards and curricula in response to the new standards, it says more about those institutions than the NCAA and the criticism of the standards devolves into a threat to undermine the reform effort.

Which is a shame because the two-year college community and the NCAA should work more closely together to address the legitimate concerns with the new JC transfer standards. That starts with how quickly they were adopted and implemented. High schools get four years to guide prospects through standards which seem to have increased less than junior college requirements. Announced in late 2011 and effective for students entering college in August 2012, junior colleges are already having to help a large cohort of students (midyear football transfers) hit the new benchmarks just two years later. Phasing in the requirements or simply delaying their effective date until 2016 would have given two-year colleges a similar timeframe to adjust to the new standards.

The academic “year of readiness” is a poster child for how the NCAA legislative process can fail. The idea would be that nonqualifiers would be allowed to add an additional redshirt year to the start of their five-year clock. They would stay in junior college for two-and-a-half or three academic years, but would still arrive at their Division I destination with three years remaining on their clock. But Proposal 2011–65 was defeated and a desire to maintain the five-year clock was not the sole reason. Objections were raised that coaches would manipulate the year of readiness, advising prospects to intentionally fail to qualify so they can get an extra year of practice, strength training, and conditioning before playing Division I athletics. The Men’s Basketball Issues Committee was particularly worried about unforeseen loopholes:

The committee is concerned as to whether prospective student-athletes would avail themselves of this option and whether there are potential issues with the application of the proposal that may not be readily discernible at this time.

The NCAA cannot point to statistics and data to support increased transfer requirements then fall back on anecdotal fears to defeat a proposal which would have almost certainly had a positive net effect. Given the backlash to the NCAA’s new JC transfer requirements, it is puzzling that the concept has not been resurrected to address the criticisms that two-year colleges feel compelled to push Division I prospects through by any means necessary.

The debate over 2–4 transfer rules is another example of the NCAA and its critics talking past each other. By raising red herrings and inflammatory accusations, the critics allow the NCAA to avoid addressing clear shortcomings in how it governs collegiate athletics (not to mention institutions that interact with the NCAA like two-year colleges). A single voice for the two-year college community could focus their objections into achievable goals the NCAA would have little choice but to address.

Are you ready for the NEXT STEP!