Statement from NAFCED on 2016 NCAA eligibility standards

Statement from the National Association for Coaching Equity and Development given to The Associated Press:

The National Association for Coaching Equity and Development (NAFCED) is concerned about the potential unintended consequences of the new NCAA 2016 Initial Eligibility standards, which are likely to have a severely disproportionate impact on underprivileged student athletes and prospects.

Effective August 1, 2016 the NCAA will be fully implementing the new Initial Eligibility Standards which were passed in 2012. Although we have some very serious concerns, the members of NAFCED welcome and applaud the NCAA's intent to enhance the academic preparedness for all incoming freshmen. To that end, there has been a demonstrable improvement in the overall graduation rates in Men's Basketball and Football under the current Initial Eligibility Standards, as a result of the implementation of the Academic Progress Rate system (i.e. ''APR''). Our concern stems not from the NCAA's desire to recruit an athlete that is better prepared to meet the academic requirements of college; but rather from the rigidity of certain standards which will have the practical effect of denying a college education to a class of student athletes who are currently matriculating successfully and graduating from member colleges and universities.

Certain elements of the 2016 Initial Eligibility requirements, when applied in conjunction with NCAA Bylaw 14.3.1.2.1, adopted by the NCAA in 2007, which limits the number of courses counted in the core after the eighth semester of a student's high school career is completed, are in the opinion of NAFCED overly restrictive and will result in severely disparate outcomes in certain communities of students. The rigidity of the new 10 Core Course requirement for rising seniors and the limitation on the student's ability to count more than 1 Core Course in postgraduate or prep school present potentially insurmountable barriers for prospects who otherwise cannot afford to attend college. The NCAA position with regards to the new Initial Eligibility Standards are premised upon three rebuttable presumptions: first all high school athletes are aware that they are legitimate college prospects by their ninth grade year in high school and therefore will immediately begin to lay the groundwork for course selection which will allow them to meet the 10 course requirement before their seventh semester; second all high school guidance departments have the requisite knowledge of college athletics and are equally resourced and capable of rendering the necessary direction to its potential prospects, at a level equivalent to all of its counterpart schools, both public and private; and third that every child achieves his or her optimal academic performance level at exactly the same period during their academic careers, regardless of learning styles or deficiencies which can be successfully remediated during high school. All three (3) presumptions, if not flawed are imperfect. The inaccuracy of the first two (2) presumptions is obvious to even the uninformed observer and require no further discussion. However, the third presumption is the most troubling because it denies a child, who comes into his or her own academically, at a later stage of their interscholastic academic career, the opportunity to receive a scholarship to attend a college or university which would otherwise admit them.

The child with the deficiency, which is oftentimes in reading or math, may require time to remediate the deficiency, in the early stages of their high school careers, thus resulting in their pursuit of more challenging courses in their last four semesters of high school. For a student in this circumstance, the 2016 Standards essentially render the last year of high school useless. The practical effect is that prospects who otherwise qualify for admission to college will be directed into a redshirt academic year where they are eligible to receive an athletic scholarship, practice, but not play in their first year. In many cases, such as in men's basketball where scholarships are not plentiful, many coaches will be forced to forego otherwise qualified and capable players because of the need to recruit athletes who can help them win immediately. In light of the competitive environment of college basketball, where coaches who have winning seasons and who receive bids to the NCAA tournament are fired for lack of performance, ineligible players are far less desirable. As a practical matter, many if not most of the academic redshirts, along with non-qualifying prospects, may potentially be forced to attend Junior Colleges to complete their eligibility. Postgraduate programs will most probably cease to be an option for prospects due to the one (1) course limitation, although for many it would be a far more desirable path as opposed to attending a Junior College or Community College. The irony and inequity of the one Core Course rule for postgraduate study is that more affluent families often send their children to postgraduate or prep schools to improve their overall academic performance and to demonstrate, to some of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country, their ability to handle the rigor if allowed admission to their institution. In the case at hand, the NCAA seeks to deny the same opportunity to prospective student athletes, who are less affluent, to likewise demonstrate their academic ability to its member institutions.

More importantly, many high school athletes may become discouraged and may never complete the eligibility requirements necessary to matriculate to an institution of higher learning. The organization has been made aware, by many of its head coaches and coaching colleagues, that as many as 35% to 80% of the student athletes currently on their rosters, who are successfully matriculating toward completing their degrees, on time, would have been denied access to an athletic scholarship under the 2016 Eligibility Standards. When reviewing the number of student athletes who have graduated from their programs during the last six (6) years, a significant number of those graduates would not have fully qualified under the 2016 Standards. It is the position of the Members of NAFCED that the 10 Core Course requirements, as currently constituted should be amended to allow greater flexibility to students who are successfully matriculating at their high school, to retake certain courses in which they have experienced difficulty, in the seventh and eight semesters for eligibility purposes. Further, in the event that a prospect fails to meet the 7 course requirement for math, English or science by the sixth semester, certain exceptions should be made where there are unique circumstances beyond the student's control. Further, a non-qualifier and/or an academic redshirt should not be limited to counting only 1 Core Course if attending a postgraduate institution, which has been approved by the NCAA for purposes of meeting the required academic rigor desired by the Association.

Failure to augment or amend certain provisions of the 2016 Initial Eligibility Standards will only serve to deny equitable access and opportunities, to higher education, for less affluent students, which by all measures would be an unintended consequence beyond acceptability. The NCAA advertises that 99% of its student athletes will be professionals in other industries other than professional sports, that is in and of itself an acknowledgement of the opportunities made available to its college graduates. NAFCED wants to insure that those opportunities are not denied, unnecessarily, to less affluent students who do not otherwise have a pathway to higher education and upward mobility.

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