SAN DIEGO -- A little more than two years ago, at the direction of National Collegiate Athletic Association President Mark Emmert, the college presidents who lead Division I approved an "academic reform" legislative package. The rules have been phased in since then and take full effect this year.
Now, Division II is taking a similar approach.
A series of proposals that will likely be approved at the Division II Board of Directors meeting, taking place here at the annual NCAA convention this week, increases the various academic requirements athletes must meet to participate in their sport.
The rules strongly resemble those passed in Division I, but are not an imitation of them, Division II leaders say. While Division II has been "reviewing" the progress in the more competitive athletic conferences during the 18 months it took to reach this point, "the timing was right" for change, said Maritza Jones, director of Division II for the NCAA.
"In general, the package is designed to move student-athletes toward graduation and focused on making sure that prospective student-athletes are ready for college," Jones said, noting that Division II hasn't changed its academic requirements in many years. "The difference is, now we have data to support our changes."
However, faculty members are concerned that at least one part could have negative repercussions for both athletes and colleges: proposals to raise the minimum number of credits athletes must take in each of their first two academic years to 36 to 40 quarter hours or 24 to 27 semester hours, depending on the specific proposal. These are designed to keep athletes progressing toward a degree, but could penalize those who are deliberately taking smaller courseloads in order to get their bearings in college or graduate in five or six years. After the second year, the minimum falls to 36 quarter hours or 24 semester hours.
Some colleges could also have trouble making classes available, professors said.
"It is clear that the vast majority of faculty athletics representatives are concerned about initial eligibility standards as well as continuing eligibility requirements" in general, said Frank M. Webbe, president of the Faculty Athletics Representatives Association. But, he said, faculty are "somewhat divided" on the continuing eligibility and progress-toward-degree rules, which would take effect Aug. 1, 2016.
John Mayer, immediate past-vice president of FARA Division II and an associate theater professor at California State University at Stanislaus, agreed.
"FARA universally supports the concepts of the Path to Graduation initiative," Mayer said. But "some members expressed concern about some of the implementation of that policy, given budget challenges that exist in some university settings."
The rule could also be potentially problematic for athletes whose athletic aid comes in the form of a stipend that may not even cover their current courseload, let alone a heavier one that might be required. But Douglas A. Kristensen, chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Kearney and a member of the Division II Academic Requirements Task Force, said he did not anticipate any financial aid changes to account for that.
"Maintaining a certain number of credit hours is the responsibility of a college student; we expect that of all our students," Kristensen said. "If you're just going to be a part-time student.... that's not going to lead you to be a successful graduate in terms of being timely or at all."
The latest reports show that Division II athletes are graduating within six years at rates of 69 percent, according to the NCAA's own graduate measure, or 54 percent, according to the federal measure. The latter excludes transfers in and counts transfers out as dropouts; the former excludes transfers out, so long as they're in good academic standing, and includes transfers in who go on to graduate.
The NCAA figure dropped three percentage points this year, which officials largely attributed to a technical glitch caused by a change in the way data are reported. Either way, they said, the legislative changes, which are based on data gathered by a Division II task force regarding what makes students successful in college, should help raise those rates again.
The first of the five-part Path to Graduation legislative package is a shift in initial eligibility requirements. For full qualifiers -- athletes who can compete, practice and earn athletic financial aid during their first year on campus -- it replaces minimum grade point averages, SAT scores and ACT scores with a scale similar to what Division I uses. Rather than a flat minimum GPA of 2.0 in core courses, plus a minimum combined SAT score of 820 or sum ACT score of 68, athletes can make up for a low GPA with higher standardized test scores, or vice versa. The scale runs from a 2.2 GPA and combined 840 SAT or sum 70 ACT, to a 3.3 GPA and 400 SAT or 37 ACT.
"You can be not a very good test-taker and still have a very successful collegiate experience," Kristensen said, adding that he was surprised at this finding. "I always took it as a given that if you had this score and this GPA, you were likely to be successful; if you didn't, you weren't likely."
A similar scale for partial qualifiers, who can practice and receive financial aid but can't compete, runs from a minimum 2.0 GPA and 820 SAT or 56 ACT, to 3.050 GPA and 400 SAT or 37 ACT.
Those rules would take effect Aug. 1, 2018.
Another proposal amends several rules regarding eligibility for graduates and transfers from two-year colleges. They include an increased minimum GPA for transfers, from 2.0 to 2.2, and a specification that two-year college graduates can be considered eligible provided at least 25 percent of their academic credits were earned at the college from which they graduated.