The Division I Board of Directors continued the quick-action precedent set earlier this summer, adopting a package of proposals Thursday that toughen academic standards and provide increased academic and economic support to student-athletes.

“These changes demonstrate a remarkable resolve by presidents,” said NCAA president Mark Emmert. “They represent a return to and a focus on values that are at the core of what intercollegiate athletics are all about. They also represent a clear signal to the world about what we care about and what we stand for.”

The Board approved an implementation plan – which includes all football bowl games – that mandates a certain level of academic performance in order to participate in postseason competition. The eligibility requirement will begin phasing in with the 2012-2013 academic year.

The Board also adopted legislation giving student-athletes who receive full athletics scholarships the opportunity to receive additional athletics aid up to the full cost of attendance or $2,000, whichever is less.

The working group that made the recommendation told the board the $2,000 figure is meaningful in addressing the miscellaneous expenses student-athletes now have. Institutions will not be required to offer the benefit, but conferences are encouraged to consider common application within their membership.

Academic changes
Earlier this year, the Board had voted to set the minimum academic standard for post-season participation as a 930 Academic Progress Rate (APR). The 930 APR predicts roughly a 50 percent Graduation Success Rate (GSR).

The new postseason eligibility structure will take effect in the 2012-13 academic year, with a two-year implementation window before the benchmark moves from 900 to 930. For access to postseason competition in 2012-13 and 2013-14, teams must achieve a 900 multi-year APR or a 930 average in the most recent two years to be eligible.

In 2014-15, teams that don’t achieve the 930 benchmark for their four-year APR or at least a 940 average for the most recent two years will be ineligible for postseason competition.

We’re trying to balance being tough with being fair. These are noticeably higher standards than in the past, but we recognize we need some time to change behavior.
-- Walter Harrison, DI Committee on Academic Performance chair 

In 2015-16, the 930 benchmark for postseason competition participation – and additional penalties – will be implemented fully. The APR requirement for postseason competition participation would be waived only in extraordinary circumstances.

The structure will allow for some adjustments for teams that improve once they enter the second level of penalties. The Board provided special allowances for historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) and low-resource schools and supported the creation of an HBCU advisory group to study academic performance of student-athletes at those institutions.

In addition, the Board also approved a new three-level penalty structure:

The first level of the new structure limits teams to 16 hours of practice a week throughout five days, with the lost four hours to be replaced with academic activities. This represents a reduction of four hours and one day per week of practice time.

The second level adds competition reduction, either in the traditional or nontraditional season, to the first level penalties.

The third level, where teams could remain until their rate improves, provides for a menu of penalty options, including coaching suspensions, financial aid reductions and restricted NCAA membership.

The current process for data collection and penalty announcement will continue, though Committee on Academic Performance members are interested in studying ways to speed up the process.

Additionally, the presidents adopted new standards for two-year transfer student-athletes. Data show that transfers from two-year colleges often struggle academically after arriving at a four-year institution.

The Board approved an increase in the transferrable grade-point average from 2.0 to 2.5 and limited the number of physical education activity courses to two. Also, two-year college transfers who didn’t qualify academically out of high school will be required to complete a core curriculum that includes English, math and science courses.

The new transfer requirements will apply to any student-athlete enrolling full-time in college for the first time in August 2012 or later.

The Board also adopted new initial eligibility standards. The presidents support a model that creates a higher academic standard for incoming freshman to compete than to receive aid and practice, creating an academic red shirt year.

Student-athletes who achieve the current minimum initial eligibility standard on the test score-grade-point average sliding scale with at least a minimum 2.0 core-course GPA would continue to be eligible for athletically related financial aid during the first year of enrollment and practice during the first regular academic term of enrollment.  Student-athletes could earn the second term of enrollment for practice by passing nine semester or eight quarter hours.

The proposal increases the standard for immediate access to competition to at least a 2.3 GPA and an increased sliding scale. Specifically, incoming student-athletes would need to earn a half-point higher GPA for a given test score compared to the current standard. For example, an SAT score of 1,000 would require a 2.5 high school core-course GPA for competition and a 2.0 high school core-course GPA for aid and practice.

The presidents also agreed with a recommendation to require prospects to successfully complete 10 of the 16 total required core courses before the start of their senior year in high school. Seven of the 10 courses must be successfully completed in English, math and science.

This legislation will impact student-athletes enrolling in college in August 2015 and later.

The proposal granting two-year college student-athletes a year of academic readiness remains in the 2011-12 legislative cycle and will be voted on for the first time at the NCAA Convention in January 2012.

“We’re trying to balance being tough with being fair. These are noticeably higher standards than in the past, but we recognize we need some time to change behavior,” said Walter Harrison, the Division I Committee on Academic Performance chair and president of the University of Hartford.

The academic standards recommendations were presented by Harrison and came from his committee, with the help of the Division I Academic Cabinet.

Student-athlete welfare improvements
The Board also adopted legislation that addresses the miscellaneous costs of attending college. Student-athletes who receive full athletics scholarships or get other school financial aid will have the opportunity to receive additional athletics aid (or other institutional aid, including use of the Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund) up to the full cost of attendance or $2,000, whichever is less.

The figure will be adjusted according to the consumer price index, so the presidents will not need to approve new figures when the cost-of-living changes. The Board resolved to not revisit the $2,000 amount for three years.

The new rule makes the additional aid available to student-athletes in head-count sports (football and basketball) and those in equivalency sports who reach the value of a full scholarship.

Pell Grants will be exempted from the calculation, and the Board adopted a best practice to encourage all student-athletes to fill out the federal application for student financial aid. In equivalency sports, only athletically-related aid will count toward team limits.

The Board also approved multi-year grants up to the full term of eligibility, though one-year grants will remain the minimum. A prescribed minimum award value should apply to all scholarships (percentage amount to be decided in the coming months), and institutions could increase the allotted aid during the period of the award.

The current restrictions and processes for reducing or canceling aid will be maintained and only non-athletically-related conditions for reduction or cancellation will be permitted in aid agreements. Student-athletes will continue to have a hearing opportunity for any reduction or cancellation of aid.

Presidents also voted to allow institutions to provide financial aid to former student-athletes who remain at or return to the institution to complete their degrees after they have exhausted their eligibility.

Penn State President Graham Spanier chaired the working group to examine student-athlete well-being issues.

“We understand the situation of our student-athletes. This isn’t about paying student-athletes, but it is about being fair and recognizing that in Division I it ought to be important to meet this need,” Spanier said. “We all have lots of different choices to make, but we felt that these proposals are right for our student-athletes.”

The Board also heard updates from the other groups considering reform out of the Aug. 9-10 presidential retreat:

• The presidents adopted a resolution from the rules working group approving the group’s principle-based outcomes approach to reshaping the Division I manual. The presidents will hear final recommendations from this group in April.

• The enforcement working group is examining new violation and penalty structures, more efficient investigation and adjudication processes and a new approach to public communication of enforcement and infraction issues. This group begin making recommendations to the Board in January 2012 and will finalize its legislative recommendations by October 2012.