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September 14, 2012
Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
Being a student-athlete on the FBS level may have taken a strong shift towards the student side of the equation as the NCAA recently made changes to its initial-eligibility requirements.
The rules are in effect for current freshmen in high school -- or the recruiting Class of 2016 -- and include a higher minimum core-course grade-point-average, a sliding scale for GPA versus standardized test score, and 10 required core classes to be completed before the senior year.
The changes were met with positive reviews from Rivals.com national recruiting analyst, Mike Farrell.
"It is great to have academic reform at the high school level," Farrell said. "I think this will increase the pool of success stories on the college level because there will be less kids flunking out since they will have had to take education more seriously for a longer period of time and not just doing crash courses as seniors to get the numbers in their favor."
The new minimum core-course GPA is 2.3 and student-athletes must complete a total of 16 core classes, as well as satisfy graduation requirements.
The core classes are: Four years of English, three years of math at an Algebra I level or higher, two years of natural or physical sciences (one of which must have a lab if it is offered by the high school), two years of social sciences, one additional course year in either English, math, or natural/physical sciences, and four cumulative years combining foreign language, philosophy, or religion.
High school football coaches and the support staffs at the local level will be shouldered with more responsibility as well, but that is a role that has already been embraced by many.
Robert Wiener, head coach at Tampa (Fla.) Plant, said that he and his staff have always tried to be ahead of the curve on academics.
"We have a very advanced academic program here," Wiener said. "We work with the kids to schedule correctly and hit the books hard. We've found that if we push the kids hard as freshmen, they will be more prepared down the line.
"Ultimately, we try to be proactive and not work in recovery mode."
Since Rivals.com began tracking recruiting classes back in 2002, Plant has sent 28 players on to FBS-level football programs and nearly twice that to FCS and Division III football. The school has also had numerous student-athletes in other sports go on to participate in collegiate athletics.
Weiner said that the school has tracked its academic numbers and he is pleased with just how little his team will need to improve its standing in the classroom.
"We only have 17-percent of our kids across all sports that would not have been full-qualifiers by the new rules," he said. "It is just important to have a plan in place and start working it as soon as possible and we tell all of our kids to work hard on that front end."
A change that Wiener felt was a major benefit to student-athletes was the new sliding scale that aligned the 16-course GPA with a minimum ACT or SAT score.
Weiner said that it levels the field for students who learn differently and does not try to force everyone into the same category.
"Everything in education points to the fact that not everyone learns the same and not everyone can be evaluated the same way," Wiener said. "Some kids can work hard in the classroom and make the grade but are poor at test taking. Some kids are the opposite, not active in the classroom but have the aptitude to test well."
The full scales can be found on the NCAA Eligibility Center by clicking here, but one example would be that a 2.5 core-course GPA would also require a student to make a 1000 on his SAT or an 85 on the sum ACT.
The biggest change to the initial eligibility will be the elimination of senior year remedial courses.
Of the 16 core classes required, 10 must be completed before the beginning of the senior year of high school. Of those completed courses, seven will be locked in as ineligible to be changed.
What that means is that every course of every year matters much more than it has in the past when athletes would be able to take multiple online classes or make-up tests to boost grade point averages in an attempt to get qualified last in the senior year.
The impact on recruits, according to Farrell, is going to be largely positive.
"You are going to get what you expect out of kids," Farrell said. "Asking them to do more is good for their future. It has been about four or five years since the last major shift in the NCAA eligibility requirements (when they took away supplemental courses) and it made kids focus on academics. This will do the same.
"Schools like Stanford, Duke, Northwestern, Vanderbilt and Boston College will likely not be affected at all in their recruiting, but schools with lower academic standards will have to make sure their recruits are doing what they need to do."
Attempts for comments on the changes from major college football programs were declined, but many shared similar thoughts of that of USC Sports Information Director, Tim Tessalone.
"As a practice, our coaches don't talk about recruiting or any practices/tactics USC uses in recruiting or how issues relate to the way USC recruits," Tessalone said.
USC is currently leading the nation in recruiting and was ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the No. 24 overall best college with an acceptance rate of just 23 percent.
Farrell said that the pool of players for FBS-level schools like USC is likely to remain unchanged.
"We won't really know the full impact for a few years after the requirements are in place, but ultimately, I don't think there will be a major drop in eligible players," Farrell said. "There isn't going to be a major rise in kids going to Junior College or forced into prep schools because they will know what is required of them and they will work harder to get there.
"That is what the kids do who want to compete at the highest level. They will rise to the occasion."
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