Presenting the New NCAA Rules

January 29, 2015

With new NCAA Division I initial eligibility standards set to go into place in 2016-17, college coaches are concerned that high school administrators may not be up to speed on the changes. Northern Illinois University decided to be proactive about the issue, hosting its first Athletic Directors Resource Seminar last fall.

Christian Spears, Deputy Director of Athletics at Northern Illinois, says his office is used to high school guidance counselors and athletic directors calling with questions regarding NCAA eligibility standards, but the school wanted to move beyond the traditional one-to-one communication model. "With the new rules coming, we thought it would be a good idea to address numerous schools at once," Spears says.

NIU promoted the seminar through an e-mail blast to more than 400 local high schools, and followed that up with a fax to each athletic director. More than 100 high school guidance counselors and athletic directors attended.

A large part of the presentation briefed the high school representatives on the new D-I rules. Beginning in 2016-17, athletes will be required to post at least a 2.3 GPA in 16 high school core courses. Previously, the minimum was 2.0. Athletes must also have completed 10 of their 16 core courses before the first semester of their senior year, and seven of the 10 must be in English, math, or science.

Incoming student-athletes with high school GPAs between 2.0 and 2.3 will be required to take an academic redshirt year, meaning they will be eligible to receive athletically related financial aid and practice with the team during their first year on campus, but they won't be allowed to participate in any competitions or travel to away events. Athletes with GPAs below 2.0 are considered non-qualifiers and cannot receive athletically related financial aid or practice during their freshman year.

In addition, incoming freshmen will have to meet test score requirements based on the NCAA's sliding scale. For example, a student-athlete with the minimum 2.3 core-course GPA will need to score a combined 1080 on the SAT math and verbal sections or a 93 on the ACT (the sum of the scores in English, mathematics, reading, and science). An athlete who posts an 820 SAT or 68 ACT, meanwhile, would need a 2.95 GPA. (The full sliding scale can be found at www.eligibilitycenter.org under "Resources".)

Spears says the seminar used PowerPoint slides created by the NCAA Eligibility Center to outline best practices and fully explain the rules changes. "We augmented the slides with real-life examples of how our staff at Northern Illinois has helped high schools through student-athlete eligibility issues, which really resonated with the audience," he says.

To emphasize the importance of offering enough core courses, NIU administrators did a little research beforehand. Once schools RSVP'd for the event, Spears went on their Web sites, gathered their core course listings, and printed them out to share at the seminar. He then "called out" schools that hadn't had new course offerings certified by the NCAA.

"Some of the schools hadn't added any classes to their approved lists in close to a decade," Spears says. "If a student-athlete needs to take 16 courses, but there are only 22 listed for their school, their options are limited."

After the presentation, the floor was opened up for questions. "Several of the visiting administrators asked how a high school can make all this information available to its student-athletes," Spears says. "Our suggestion was to host a Student-Athlete Day at the start of every school year, where administrators can clearly explain the things a student-athlete needs to know if he or she is looking to get a college scholarship."

High school athletic directors also asked about how to mitigate costs associated with testing and eligibility. "Schools all know there's a cost for registering with the NCAA Eligibility Center and for ACT and SAT test prep materials, but not many of them were aware that the NCAA allows high school booster clubs to provide those opportunities, as long as they're available for anyone who wants them," Spears says. "When we mentioned that, quite a few eyebrows went up."

Spears says the seminar received a lot of positive feedback and benefitted NIU in several ways. "We invited all the attendees to our men's basketball game afterwards, and since some of them hadn't been to our campus in years, it was a great opportunity for them to see all the improvements we've made to our athletic facilities," he says. "It also really helped us establish a connection with high schools in the area."

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