Jon Solomon of AL.com has the latest in the annual cycle of articles asking whether the NCAA should move the college basketball season to the spring. The idea has support from a growing number of influential people in college sports including Basketball Hall of Famer C.M. Newton and former NCAA executive Greg Shaheen. Solomon’s article is an excellent recap of the arguments for and against moving the sport, especially on the commercial side.
But Shaheen mentioned another reason, often cited by proponents of a spring basketball season:
The one-semester idea needs to at least be discussed due to the NCAA’s academic reform movement, said Shaheen, noting the lengthy class absences for players during basketball season. As more college players attend summer school, basketball players could take more credits in the summer and fall and create a more reasonable academic schedule in the spring if basketball was one semester, Shaheen said.
“The stickiness of students sticking around in that second semester is always a focal point of conversation during the peak of the season,” Shaheen said. Some one-and-done players are actually just one-semester-and-done players, leaving school after the season ends to prepare for the NBA.
As far as one-and-done players are concerned, moving the season does little to help those motivations, especially the less significant move that Shaheen proposes in the article. A player still only needs to stay eligible after the fall to play in the spring, and could then take school less seriously. If the basketball season ended after the spring term though, that could have a bigger impact. Like a bowl game, players might be required to pass six hours to be eligible for postseason basketball. But passing six hours in the spring does less to help APRs or graduation rates.
More generally, just because the games might be during one semester does not mean basketball will be a one-semester sport. No sport in Division I is in-season during only one semester. All sports have a nontraditional or non championship segment (fall baseball, spring football), play across the semester break (basketball, hockey, swimming) or compete in both semesters (tennis, golf, distance runners). There would almost certainly be an in-season practice period, perhaps modeled off of fall baseball. For instance, basketball teams might be permitted 15 practice days during a 30-day period which must be in August, September, or October. Practice would then restart in mid-late November. That means less travel and missed class time in the fall, but still significant time demands.
But most important is that moving basketball to the fall semester is a solution in search of an academic problem. Broadly speaking, basketball’s problem is not academics, or more precisely it is not eligibility. Basketball’s problem is retention. Both men’s basketball and football have similar APR averages (page 6) of 958.8 and 953.1 respectively. Basketball ranks much higher in the average eligibility score (969.7 vs. 945.8) but trails football significantly in retention (937.3 vs. 950.8). Despite the lack of sport-specific academic reform, basketball is even closing the gap on baseball, which had a major reform package adopted in 2007.
A one-semester basketball season might help retention some, by cutting down on midyear transfers. But moving the season to the spring is unlikely to make a significant dent in overall APR scores or graduation rates by itself. The biggest academic effect would be the opportunity for further academic reform in basketball because of the change to the playing season. Basketball would be wise to adopt baseball’s rules that players who are not eligible at the start of the fall semester cannot get eligible for the spring. And looking into a version of football’s nine-hour rule to start getting basketball players ahead academically would be prudent as well.
A spring basketball season is likely to be neutral academically, especially if steps are taken to prevent the academic issues associated with sports that predominantly compete in one semester or the other. Given the minimal academic impact, that consideration can take a backseat in favor of others.