Good Intentions Lead to a Bad Policy
The NCAA has dropped the ball once more. While many believe that NCAA stands for Not Concerned About Academics, the organization has made considerable progress in recent years. Now, athletes who wish to compete in intercollegiate athletics must enter college with minimum grades and minimum ACT or SAT scores. And, the NCAA has established a high school core curriculum which must be completed. While the current requirements may be too lenient, some meaningful standards do exist, which has not always been the case. In theory, these NCAA standards should encourage student-athletes and coaches to be more concerned about academic achievement and better prepare athletes to succeed in college.
But, you can never underestimate the willingness of some institutions to allow their coaches to do almost anything to win or the lack of concern some coaches have for academics. Remember, it is the win-at-all-costs philosophy of many coaches and the institutions they serve that brought about new academic standards after decades of student-athletes, often at the direction of their coaches, to worry more about retaining eligibility than making real academic progress. And it is that “why take real courses when you can stay eligible lifting weights” attitude that resulted in athletes leaving college well short of graduation after four years.
And, make no mistake, some institutions and coaches still care a lot more about having athletes that can win than athletes that graduate.
That’s why it’s no surprise that some bogus “high schools” sprang up to circumvent the NCAA academic standards. And, it’s no surprise that coaches at major universities enrolled student-athletes who attended (to use the word loosely) these schools, although they were well known to require little or no academic work. In fact, the only equation students attending these jock factories had to know was “check + pulse= required grades”.
The result of these abuses is that the NCAA, in a well meaning effort to ensure some level of academic preparation for athletes, recently limited the amount of qualifying coursework that can be completed, after high school graduation, in an independent school.
The problem with that policy is that student-athletes can no longer increase their academic readiness for college in legitimate prep schools, some of which have a long and distinguished history of preparing students (not just athletes) for college. One of the major goals of the NCAA should be creating real educational opportunities for student-athletes, yet their new policy limits opportunity by placing some excellent schools…legitimate prep schools that offer scholarships to student athletes…effectively “off limits” and instead encouraging students to qualify for eligibility by attending two-year colleges.
While prep schools, for the most part, are serious about academic preparation, too many junior college coaches are far more concerned about achieving a won-lost record which will move them up the coaching ladder. And, somehow, lots of athletes graduate from junior college with poor academic skills and a transcript filled with suspect coursework.
The NCAA is moving forward. Insisting on some level of academic preparation for student-athletes is a good thing. So are the rules that mandate progress toward graduation and penalize universities (through a loss of scholarships) for poor academic performance and attrition of their athletes. And, prohibiting coursework at “bogus” high schools to be used to satisfy academic requirements is a great step.
But, why prevent student-athletes from attending legitimate prep schools to hone their athletic and academic skills?