When it comes to supporting “student athletes” at U.S. universities, it seems that athletic issues always take precedence over academic issues.
This principle is displayed once again in the case of three freshmen basketball players who are being forced to delay the start of their fall semester classes while the NCAA continues to debate their eligibility to play at Kansas University. The three players could start their classes, but if they do and, for any reason are found ineligible to play at KU, they wouldn’t receive their scholarship awards and would be responsible for paying their own tuition and housing costs. In fact, because of that risk, KU coach Bill Self has advised the players not to show their faces on campus until the NCAA makes a final ruling on their eligibility.
Self said the review process was a little more complicated for the three recruits because each had attended three high schools before graduating. That makes it more difficult to evaluate their academic records. Although KU is eager to have the trio cleared to play and attend class, Self said, KU understands the delay.
In the meantime, now two weeks into the fall semester, the three student athletes still are waiting to attend their first classes. A similar situation occurred last year with freshman Josh Selby, who finally was cleared to attend class on Sept. 7.
Something is wrong with this system. If the NCAA and individual universities truly place a high priority on their athletes earning academic credits and graduating, they should find a way to fix a process that handicaps those athletes at the beginning of their academic careers. Of course, the athletic department offers special academic assistance that will help the athletes catch up, if and when they arrive on campus, but the better option would be to answer the eligibility questions in time for the athletes to start attending class on schedule. Another option would be to create some kind of provisional status that would allow the players to start attending class without facing a financial penalty if they are declared ineligible and have to withdraw.
It’s important for the NCAA to enforce its eligibility requirements. Perhaps KU and other universities could do a better job of picking recruits without eligibility issues or providing the information to clear up those issues in a more timely manner. Perhaps the NCAA could expedite its decision-making process. Something needs to change. Keeping student athletes out of class and forcing them to play catchup when they arrive on campus certainly leaves the impression NCAA officials and schools are more interested in them as athletes than as students.