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Kansas schools united to communicate new academic requirements

By Brian Burnsed

They’re accustomed to competing, not working in harmony.

Hundreds of times, on fields and courts at Kansas’ three Division I schools – Kansas, Kansas State and Wichita State – helmets and bodies have crashed together. Before frenzied, tense crowds, competitors from each institution have tussled with each other for school and state pride.

But this year, those three schools so accustomed to trying to best each other have united behind a common interest. Last October, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors voted for more stringent initial-eligibility and two-year transfer requirements. The new rules go into effect in 2016 – meaning they affect freshmen starting high school this fall and those enrolling in two-year colleges this fall, so it’s imperative that officials from each athletics department quickly and thoroughly spread the word.

Scott Hobbs, Kansas’s director of compliance for education, suggested that they do so in concert with other state schools. In early January, he reached out to the rival schools suggesting such a partnership. Together, they would educate Kansas student-athletes, coaches, guidance counselors and academic advisors about the upcoming eligibility changes. The three institutions would be united in their message, so that there would be no confusion, no misunderstandings to preclude the state’s top prospects from competing at the collegiate level. 

"I think it’s important to bring all three schools together to show that you’re on the same front, that you’re united and that you’re trying to get across the same message,” said Korey Torgerson, associate athletics director for student services at Wichita State. “When all three are there it reinforces the importance of the one message that is being delivered."

Given Kansas’ proximity to the state capital – Lawrence is a mere 30-minute drive from Topeka, home to the state’s Board of Regents – the school’s athletics department took the lead in the effort to reach out to high schools. Their efforts began with a brochure, vetted by officials at both Kansas State and Wichita State, that detailed the new initial-eligibility requirements and would be distributed to state education officials.

Hobbs and Kansas faculty athletics representative Jerry Bailey met with the Kansas Board of Regents and the director of the state’s high school activities association in January. In March, Kansas officials met with a group of high school guidance counselors. In April, they gave a presentation to school superintendents from every corner of the state.  

While Kansas reached out to high schools, Kansas State was tasked with communicating transfer-eligibility changes to the 19 schools in the Jayhawk Community College Conference as well as other two-year schools in the state and neighboring areas. The two-year transfer grade-point average requirement was raised from a 2.0 to a 2.5 and the number of physical education activity classes allowed was cut to two.

In early April, Kansas State held an informational session at its football facility, attended by more than 75 community college officials. The session extended for several hours as members of compliance and student services staffs from all three Division I schools fielded questions from the audience. The two-year transfer changes go into effect for freshmen enrolling at community colleges this fall, meaning student-athletes there will have a mere two years to ensure they understand and comply with new eligibility standards if they hope to transfer to a Division I institution.

“That’s one of the reasons it was very important that we meet with the community college advisors and athletics directors immediately,” said Jamie Vaughn, associate athletics director for compliance at Kansas State. “The new freshmen on their campuses this fall were going to be impacted immediately.”

Wichita State has assisted both schools in their efforts, serving in a backup role and providing ongoing assistance. They’ll be working alongside Kansas and Kansas State to help maintain awareness of the new initial eligibility requirements, given that they won’t apply to college freshmen until they set foot on campus in fall 2016.

“It’s not something that they can forget about,” said Jill Shields, associate athletics director for student services at Kansas State. “The impact has yet to be felt with this.”

The schools hope that their efforts will affect change well beyond the state’s borders. The new rules will impact student-athletes nationwide, and officials at all three schools anticipate that they will be trendsetters, prompting other schools to form partnerships regardless of longstanding athletics rivalries.   

“Hopefully it will inspire other states, other schools – regardless of their conference affiliations or their intrastate rivalries – that they will understand first and foremost that we need to think about the students in their state and the importance of them being eligible for intercollegiate competition,” said Theresa Becker, associate athletics director for compliance at Kansas.

Officials at all three schools were adamant that camaraderie, not competition, has defined their arrangement. They’ve all leaned on each other to help educate thousands of education officials and students. It’s a partnership each hopes to rely on when and if other important changes arise in the future.

“The goal was to educate and to help, not to gain an advantage for K-State, or KU or Wichita State in recruiting,” Vaughn said. “We put all of that aside and did something that was good for everybody.”


Division I initial-eligibility changes

The changes adopted by the Division I Board of Directors continue to use a student-athlete’s grades in high school core courses in combination with the student-athlete’s ACT or SAT score and core-course accumulation.

The new standards are as follows:

  • To be immediately eligible for competition, prospective student-athletes must achieve at least a 2.3 GPA and an increased test score. For example, an SAT score of 1,000 requires a 2.5 high school core-course GPA for competition and a 2.0 high school core-course GPA for aid and practice. Student-athletes serving this academic redshirt year would have to successfully complete nine semester or eight quarter hours during their first academic term to be eligible for practice during their second term.  
  • Prospects must successfully complete 10 of the 16 total required core courses before the start of their senior year in high school.
  • Seven of the 10 courses must be successfully completed in English, math and science.
  • A new academic standard has been created that allows true freshmen that meet the previous initial eligibility standards to practice and receive financial aid, but not compete, while they acclimate to the college environment.
  • Student-athletes transferring from two-year colleges must achieve a 2.5 transferrable GPA and transfer only two PE activity courses. In addition, a nonqualifier would also need to complete a core curriculum in English, math and science.