September 26, 2014

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) California will raise the academic requirements of incoming student-athletes as part of an effort to improve graduation rates for football players and other athletes.

Chancellor Nicholas Dirks accepted the more than 50 recommendations made by a task force he put together last year in response to low graduation rates in football, men's basketball and six other sports.

While many of the recommendations released Friday by the Chancellor's Task Force on Academics & Athletics focused on doing a better job of integrating student-athletes into campus life, the ones that could have the most impact on the field are the increased standards for applicants.

But Dirks said the on-field expectations are not changing.

''We intend to continue to compete at the very high level that we do and be even better in some sports in the future,'' Dirks said.

The 20-member task force was formed last fall after reports that Cal's 44 percent graduation rate for football players who entered school from 2003-06 was the lowest of any major conference team. The 38 percent rate in men's basketball was fourth worst among major conferences.

In the eight sports with the lowest graduation rates, student-athletes with a 3.0 high school grade point average graduated at a 70.2 percent rate, compared to 38.6 percent for those under a 3.0. There was a similar pattern for students who scored below 500 on the math or reading portions of their SATs.

''We are also very committed to making sure that we don't admit students that we do not believe will graduate,'' said interim athletic director Mike Williams, who was a member of the task force. ''It seems appropriate that we have our athletes graduate on par with the rest of the campus.''

There previously had been a special process to screen applications from student-athletes. But professor Panos Papadopoulos, the chair of the academic senate that makes all decisions regarding undergraduate admissions, said athletes will now be considered under the same process of other applicants with ''special talents,'' like musicians.

The task force recommended admitting fewer students who meet those benchmarks. New guidelines are expected to be in place for recruits entering school next fall.

The task force has set a goal that every team have a similar graduation rate as the campus does as a whole, which is currently between 91 and 92 percent in a six-year period.

''We believe this can be done. It can be done for all the sports,'' Papadopoulos said. ''It may not be doable in a global way for all NCAA teams in all sports. But at Berkeley it can be done.''

Williams is confident that increased academic standards will not negatively impact performance on the field but said coaches may need to recruit more students from outside the Bay Area and California.

Among the other recommendations are that the athletic director will report directly to Dirks instead of to the Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance; coaches will be evaluated on the academic performance of their teams as well as results on the field; and the athletic department will hire a recruiting coordinator who will help guide coaches and players through the application process.

The report also said the Pac-12 and Pac-12 Networks should reduce the number of midweek games that force students to miss class time; called on the NCAA to consider allowing student-athletes to take fewer than 13 credits in a semester during the season to stay eligible; and advocated Cal redshirting freshmen who might not be immediately ready for the rigors of college.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a UC Regent, had previously called for athletic directors' contracts to be tied to academic performance. Newsom called the task force recommendations an ''important first step'' in reforming college athletics but maintains that more needs to be done.

''We cannot stop there,'' Newsom said. ''Now is the time to move toward strict enforcement of the NCAA 20-hour-a-week practice rule; offer four-year, full cost of education scholarships; and provide stipends.''

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