Well then, what
is "normal progress toward a degree"? Basically it is a mishmash the
NCAA—meaning the member schools, not the paid staff in Shawnee Mission,
Kans.—has concocted. The membership resists hard-and-fast "normal
progress" rules. Led by the Ivy League, it wants autonomy in scholastic
matters and the right of "like institutions with like needs" to handle
academic requirements as they see fit. The NCAA requires only that an athlete
be "in good academic standing as determined by the faculty" of his
school, that he be "enrolled in at least a minimum full-time program of
studies" and that he maintain "satisfactory progress toward a
baccalaureate or equivalent degree as determined by...that
minimum standard is that a student-athlete must be registered in at least 12
hours of course work per semester or quarter, but in practice the demands vary
from conference to conference and school to school. Most of the major
conferences require 24 semester hours passed per year; the Big Ten requires
more; the Ivy League doesn't spell it out. There is no central monitoring of
progress, no clear-cut guideline on curricula.
The Big Ten, Big
Eight and Mid- America conferences have a minimum grade-point-average
requirement; the Southern, Southeastern, Southwest and Pac-10 do not. Even
within conferences there is confusion. At Georgia, for example, the
grade-point-average requirement rises according to hours attempted—which,
thereby, penalizes an athlete who chooses to take a heavy academic load—so an
athlete could be eligible by NCAA and SEC standards and not by Georgia's. Even
then, says Registrar Bruce Shutt, an athlete could remain eligible by moving
from major to major, "as long as the dean okays it."
There is also the
matter of curriculum, and how to get through by feeding on such souffl�s as
Family Financial Planning and Household Equipment (actually offered by many
schools) while avoiding courses that are required for a major—and, hence, a
degree. By dancing (literally, in some instances) through a hodgepodge of
introductory-level "life-science," "appreciation" and P.E.
courses, a student-athlete can build up credits while making no progress toward
getting a diploma or an education.
institution has ways to keep an athlete eligible," says a veteran Big Ten
coach. "You know it, I know it, everybody knows it—but that doesn't mean
he'll graduate." He describes an example in which a freshman is signed up
"for five hours of football, five hours of basketball, five hours of golf,
five hours of tennis, five hours of volleyball, five hours of swimming and five
hours of track.
"If he makes
A's in all those courses, he builds up a great grade-point. Do you know how
hard it is to tear down an average that starts with 35 hours of A's? Almost
impossible. That's a lot of b.s., allowing things like that. A kid comes to his
senior season and hasn't taken Freshman English yet. Don't laugh. I know of two
fine backs who have to pass Freshman English this summer if they want to play
their last season."
easy," admits an NCAA official. "You simply avoid core-curriculum-type
courses that are required to move you into a degree-granting program. Many
schools have no exact time when you have to declare your major. You can slide
around. Take every service class, participate in activity courses, learn how to
officiate a volleyball game or how to play badminton, and get nowhere. Then,
when you run out of easy ones and have to declare a major, you simply change
majors—move from one study group to another, satisfying the language of
'progress' without progressing at all."
Over the years
there has been relatively little discussion on the floor at NCAA conventions
about normal progress, despite the fact that in its present form it is, in the
words of the NCAA's Assistant Executive Director Bill Hunt, "almost
impossible to police. There are too many variations to cope with."
Investigators have found that in some cases not even the academic dean knew all
the rules. "One school allowed a kid who had dropped out for a year to
reenter although he was failing before he dropped out and had done nothing to
change that situation," Hunt says. "It was a 'brain school' on the East
Coast. The school had a 'rule' to cover it."
So much for how a
student-athlete can be legally kept in a four-year school. Getting him there
often presents no more difficult a problem. Incestuous relationships outside
the province of the NCAA have arisen among some junior colleges with loose
academic standards and athletic departments at four-year schools looking for a
place to "season" high school athletes they can't get into school or
those they need to "place" so as not to expend too many of their
valuable (and limited) athletic scholarships on iffy prospects.
community) colleges began to multiply when enrollment at four-year schools got
tight in the '50s. Generally they serve a good purpose—giving slow starters a
leg up or admitting those who cannot afford a major college. In most states a
high school diploma isn't required for admission to a J.C.