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Division II passes “transformative” academic package

Most elements of Path to Graduation legislation overwhelmingly supported by membership

By Brian Hendrickson

Division II delegates approved four proposals in the Path to Graduation package Saturday during the business session at the NCAA Convention, changing initial eligibility requirements and more specifically defining student-athletes’ academic path to increase their chances of graduating.

The proposals at times drew intense debate from the gathered membership, which expressed concerns about the elimination of current methods for determining continuing eligibility and implementing sliding scales that were designed to give more flexibility to initial eligibility requirements. But after the four components of the package went through, Grand Valley State President Tom Haas – the incoming chair of the Presidents Council – called the legislation “transformative” and felt the division looked at the four proposals as an entire package.

“This is another step Division II has taken to stress that students are first and foremost, and it puts them on a path to succeed,” Haas said. “It’s a partnership with our students. We realize that our role here is as educators. We’re partners with our students. And it’s important for us to create the right environment for them to succeed.”

Most of the package passed overwhelmingly.

A proposal to change initial eligibility criteria for incoming college freshmen was passed by a 218-81-2 vote, and changes those standards for the first time in 31 years. It raises the initial eligibility GPA requirement for student-athletes enrolling on or after Aug. 1, 2018, to a minimum of 2.2 for qualifiers, from the current 2.0, and establishes for the first time two sliding scales for full and partial qualifiers that allows lower standardized test scores to be offset by higher high school core course GPA’s. It replaces the current system, which set fixed requirements for GPA and test scores.

Likewise, a proposal to change the eligibility standards for two-year college transfers passed 224-65-0. It changes the eligibility requirements for student-athletes transferring from two-year colleges and, among other things, grants immediate eligibility for those possessing an associate of arts degree from an accredited institution if they were enrolled full-time for a minimum of two semesters or three quarters.

Delegates also overwhelmingly supported the first of three progress-toward-degree proposals, which requires student-athletes to maintain a 2.0 GPA while earning nine-semester/eight-quarter hours on a term-by-term basis (not including summer sessions). Student-athletes would need to earn 18-semester or 24-quarter hours during the regular academic year, not including summer hours, to remain eligible. The proposal passed 197-103 with one abstention.

The in-depth debates started when delegates began considering the final two progress-toward-degree proposals, which set an annual credit-hour requirement for student-athletes to meet to remain eligible, and eliminated the averaging method that requires student-athletes to meet progressive credit-hour benchmarks by certain points in their careers. The two proposals were designed to spark philosophical debate among members about which of the two proposals posed the best direction for the division.

Delegates expressed concern about the first of those proposals, which would require student-athletes to complete 27 credit hours or 40 quarter hours in their first two years, and 24 semester hours or 36 quarter hours in each of years three and four.

Delegates were galvanized against that proposal, and defeated it 64-233 with one abstention. Some speakers said it placed too much of a demand on student-athletes. Others argued that the increased class load would prevent student-athletes from being involved in other activities on campus or working to help pay for their education.

Spencer Dodd, a baseball student-athlete at St. Martin’s University and a member of the Division II National SAAC, told members that SAAC had decided to oppose the proposal for similar reasons.

“A 27-semester or 40-quarter-hour minimum requirement during the first two years of enrollment places too heavy of an academic burden on student-athletes making the transition from high school to college,” Dodd said. “(It) would also raise financial concerns among athletes who may have to finance tuition for the completion of academic work to reach the requirement.”

Once defeated, a similar version of that proposal was brought to a vote that maintained the 24-semester hour, 36-quarter hour requirement currently in place, but eliminated the averaging method. It shifted the debate from the credit-hour requirement to the viability of the averaging method.

The Academic Requirements Task Force that first developed the Path to Graduation package determined that the averaging method was often being miscalculated or misunderstood. In some cases, the method also allowed student-athletes to load up on credits during less-demanding periods in their careers and take fewer degree-applicable classes later, which the Management Council and Presidents Councils, sponsors of the legislation, felt placed the emphasis on maintaining eligibility rather than progressing toward a degree.

Those opposed eliminating the averaging method contended that it shouldn’t be removed if efforts to educate members could correct the miscalculations.

“Nobody has said the averaging method doesn’t work,” said Fort Hayes State president Edward Hammond. “It’s just not being applied properly.”

But others, including the Division II SAAC, reminded the voting members of the importance of placing the focus on graduation.

“This proposal places student-athletes more firmly on the path to graduation,” said Samantha Whittier, a sophomore on Northern New Hampshire’s women’s soccer team and a member of the Division II SAAC, “and it demonstrates the division’s commitment to the academic success of student-athletes.”

Delegates passed the proposal 163-130-0 to round out the Path to Graduation package.