- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
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 institution."
The NCAA's 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.
"Every 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."
"It's 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.
Junior (or 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.