Archive for Monday, August 19, 2002

Hemenway wants to ‘make a difference’

KU’s chancellor and chair of NCAA Div. I Board of Directors is determined to make academic reform work

August 19, 2002


Skeptics may scoff, but the NCAA insists it is intent on establishing academic reform at its member institutions.

"I feel we'll make a difference. There is a strong desire within the NCAA to sort of clean up some of the unfortunate situations," said Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway, chair of the NCAA Div. I Board of Directors.

"We have an obligation to show intercollegiate athletics is about more than winning. It is about people competing and taking advantage of educational opportunities. We all want to win and have successful programs, but also want to be part of something more noble."

To that end, the NCAA Board met on Aug. 8 and discussed a large-scale, three-phase academic reform package that may ultimately reward schools that graduate a certain percentage of players and perhaps penalize those that don't.

Initial eligibility

The first step of reform is the always controversial and confusing issue of initial eligibility.

NCAA representatives will meet on Oct. 31 and vote on new proposals that aim to emphasize high school grade point averages more than standardized tests.

The board of directors, outgoing NCAA leader Cedric Dempsey and the six major conferences favor a proposal that ups the number of required core courses in high school from 13 to 14 and determines eligibility on a sliding scale that weighs SAT scores and grade point averages.

For instance, according to the Washington Post, a high school senior scoring a minimum 400 on the SAT would need a 3.55 GPA in core courses to be eligible in college. Somebody with a 3.0 GPA would need just a 620 SAT score.

Currently, according to Prop 48 guidelines implemented in 1986, athletes who score below 820 on the SAT or 68 on the ACT are ineligible to qualify for athletic scholarships.

"The data consultants have developed indicate it's much more fair to have a sliding scale," Hemenway said. "The way it is now if you get an 819, it's, 'Tough luck.'

"There is evidence standardized tests discriminate on the basis of race and economic background. Some people freeze up on tests. It's something consultants are taking a look at still."

More core curriculum

Most coaches in the six major conferences, including KU basketball coach Roy Williams, are troubled by relying heavily on standardized tests.

"It bothers me. I'd like more emphasis on core curriculum," Williams said. "I think that's the best move we could make. I have questions involving the test score because of things like biases on the tests."

Added Wayne Walden, KU's director of degree and career counseling/student support services, "I don't think the test score is a good indicator. I think we have been misusing that. I know there can be cases where high school grades were inflated, too, but that test can't measure how hard a kid will work. That's so important.

"If you will go to class, work hard, talk to teachers and do what they ask, you can make it."

Despite plenty of anti-standardized test sentiment, there still likely will remain a floor to minimum test scores at say, 400 or 600.

"The one that seems to work most is a 600 floor," Hemenway said of ACT score. "Consultants did an analysis of everybody in the NCAA system. They've indicated it would be a very unusual circumstance if somebody had a 600 and 3.8 GPA.

"If you had no tests whatsoever, you'd ask yourself, 'Is this grade point average a true average or did someone help that kid in high school because this kid has athletic talent? Did somebody give (the student-athlete) a free ride?'

"My own feeling is we must trust high schools to administer grading with integrity."

Graduation rates

Once initial eligibility standards are changed, the NCAA plans on tackling a way of fairly determining whether schools are graduating their athletes.

The NCAA currently measures graduation rates by counting players who did or did not graduate within six years of their initial enrollments.

Players who transfer away or leave school before graduation count against that school's rate as non-graduates.

"We're looking at whether or not we can rightfully expect student-athletes to have 40 percent of their requirements out of the way after the first two years, 60 percent after the third year and 80 percent after the fourth year. If we have that kind of a measure of progress, we'll see a lot more student-athletes graduating," Hemenway said.

"Having arrived at fair standards, we may take a look at rewards for institutions who do it right and maybe some sanctions for those who don't do it right. We've not yet looked deeply into any of these the whole issue of should you deny a chance to participate in the postseason, if you don't reach a satisfactory academic progress rate and graduation rate should you not share as fully in financial (payments from TV contracts) of the NCAA? Should you be restricted some way in grants and aid if you do poorly? Should scholarships be added if you do well and subtracted if you do poorly?"

That would be OK with Williams, whose Jayhawks had a 64 percent graduation rate compiled last year (taking into account students who entered in 1991, '92, '93 and '94), second best in the NCAA Sweet 16 and by far the best of all Final Four teams.

"I am all for an institution being rewarded for its youngsters graduating," Williams said.

There is still much to be discussed, with a skeptical public and press corps waiting to see if it's all a bunch of hot air. Remember, the controversial Prop 48 which set the current initial eligibility climate has been used for 16 years.

"I think it's heartening presidents and chancellors seem to want to do something about academic reform," Hemenway said. "I am really excited to be part of this."

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