Posted September 1, 2003 Atlanta
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Contact Matthew Nagel
New measures designed to improve the graduation rates of National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I student-athletes became effective this fall, creating a new academic profile that prospects and enrolled athletes must meet to earn the privilege of participating in intercollegiate athletics.
"We aren't guessing at what the results from these standards will be," said Robert Hemenway, chairman of the NCAA Division I Board of Directors and vice chancellor of the University of Kansas, when the reform proposal was announced this past year.
"If you continue to meet the academic profile in your first, second, third, fourth and fifth year, you will be on track to graduate," Hemenway said. "If you don't meet the academic profile, you won't be participating in college sports."
The new academic reforms include, among other things, provisions that require incoming freshmen student-athletes to earn six hours of academic credit each semester for a total of at least 18 semester hours each academic year.
Earning those course hours comes in addition to a freshman football player's schedule, for example, which on a typical Wednesday includes a mandatory, 30-minute study-hall session beginning at 7:15 a.m.; a team meeting for an hour and 45 minutes in the afternoon; football practice for two hours and 15 minutes; and another mandatory study hall session at 7:45 p.m. -- for as long as needed -- through 10 p.m.
Jim Stevens -- director of academic services for the Georgia Tech Athletic Association -- and his staff of seven advisers have been charged with the task of implementing the new academic reforms this fall.
"It's a fact that our student-athletes have a lot on their plates. They're going to have stresses put on them," Stevens said. "[The academic reforms] require us to be more precise in the course options we line up for the student-athletes, and they've all got to work at it.
"But I don't want any of our student-athletes treated differently than any other student at Georgia Tech," he said. "My expectations are high for them. I expect them to be at class and to be prepared for that class. They should, in fact, be able to contribute to the class."
Stevens said the new NCAA academic requirements will be rigorous for Georgia Tech's student-athletes, but he has full confidence that they will rise to the challenge. The new "40-60-80 rule," in particular, will be tough on Tech's freshmen athletes, he said.
This reform states that, in order to compete, student-athletes must earn 40 percent of their degree requirements by the beginning of their third year of enrollment; 60 percent by the beginning of their fourth year; and 80 percent by the beginning of their fifth year. The new 40-60-80 split applies to incoming freshman athletes for 2003; current sophomore athletes and above may still compete under the previous 25-50-70 percentage split.
"It will be tough, because there's a relatively small number of majors for students to pursue at Georgia Tech compared to other Atlantic Coast Conference schools, and all the majors here are demanding," Stevens said. "In a sense, [the new reforms] will be tougher on our student-athletes. We have great courses that are truly demanding, and our student-athletes don't have a large number of free electives to choose for their course loads."
But, the 40-60-80 rule also makes academic advising more straight-forward and somewhat easier in terms of tracking student-athlete progress toward their degree. That's because every course student-athletes take must be applicable to their degree, Stevens said.
Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough, a member of the NCAA Division I Board of Directors, has put his full support behind the new academic reforms.
"I have always expected, and will continue to expect, that our coaches will work with Jim Stevens and our academic support personnel in a coordinated fashion to ensure that student-athletes have the opportunity to meet the challenges of a Tech education and make steady progress toward graduation," Clough said.
"I also expect our student-athletes to achieve at an academic level comparable to that of the average of the student body, including remaining on track for graduation," he said. "That is why our academic support services are so important. They are important to the performance of our athletes and they are important for the ultimate mission of the Institute.
"Credible and competent academic support enhances the experience of our student athletes and upholds the rigorous academic excellence of Georgia Tech," Clough said.
NCAA President Myles Brand, another supporter of the reforms, said the best way to protect and enhance the values of college sports is to ensure the academic success of all student-athletes. The current academic reform movement under way in NCAA Division I, he said, is key in that regard.
"The new initial-eligibility and progress-toward-degree standards are going to yield results," he said. "Graduation rates are going to rise. The increase to 16 core courses will produce better-prepared freshmen. And the requirements for enrolled student-athletes will result in genuine progress toward a specific degree and not just the false success of merely sustaining eligibility."
At Tech, Stevens has implemented several new checks-and-balances in the academic advising process, and he also plans to implement several new forms of documentation to track the process, he said.
Academic advisers will continue to make sure the courses student-athletes choose are applicable to their degree, and athletes will be encouraged to take courses in their proper sequence as much as possible, Stevens said. Advisers also will perform checks to make certain student-athletes attend classes, and reports will be provided to coaches.
In addition, athletes will continue to attend study hall sessions as required by the guidelines Stevens has established with Tech coaches. But a new system is in place to ensure that student-athletes meet their objectives for each session.
"What I'm interested in is that they come into study hall with a goal that they want to accomplish by the end of their session," Stevens said. "They have a sign-in sheet, and they must fill out that objective when they come in for their study session. Their work is checked when they're done, and they are quizzed to see that they've met that goal."
"I'm excited about the fall," he said. "The Georgia Tech Athletic Association has some great people working with the student-athletes. This is an exciting job, because we can really have an impact in a kid's life."