A few months back, Eamonn Brennan looked at the proposed men’s basketball summer school rule. The rule, as embodied in Proposal 2010-58, has a couple of major components:
- An assessment of every incoming or continuing men’s basketball student-athlete to decide if they need summer school;
- The opportunity for coaches to have eight hours per week of required athletic activity, with no more than two of those hours devoted to skill instruction for an eight week period in the summer;
- A requirement that any student-athlete involved in those activities enroll in six credits during the summer and pass six credits (three for incoming freshmen); and
- A requirement that schools offer summer school aid to walk-ons who fail the assessment.
After looking at the rule, Brennan could find nothing wrong with it and issued a challenge:
Please, college coaches: Abuse this system. I’m having a hard time finding anything wrong with it.
Brennan’s point was that even if a coach attempts to abuse this rule by prioritizing athletics over academics, academics still wins. It doesn’t matter if you’re bringing freshman in early or keeping returners over the summer for basketball or books, books still get a fair share of attention.
And it is tough to poke holes in the rule. Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt objected to the potential for a prospective student-athlete to become eligible then fall ineligible:
“I am somewhat concerned about the double jeopardy you’re putting a kid in,” said Hewitt, a member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches board. “If a young man goes to summer school and for whatever reason—maybe a family emergency—if he did not pass his hours, you could be putting him in jeopardy of being ineligible.
Hewitt’s example is flawed because in the case of a family emergency, the student-athlete would have an excellent chance of being granted a progress-toward-degree waiver to take the court in the fall. But Brennan is incorrect that the rule cannot be abused. Because once you get past the freshman year, there doesn’t need to be any double jeopardy.
Bylaw 14, covering eligibility, along with Bylaw 12 (amateurism) form the heart of the NCAA Manual. Those two sections dictate who can and cannot take the practice field or compete for an NCAA institution. Boiled down to its essence, Bylaw 14 establishes the following requirements for a continuing student-athlete to be academically eligible:
- Enroll as a full-time student (usually 12 credits);
- Pass six credits every term;
- Pass 18 credits (27 at quarter schools) during each academic year (no summer school);
- Pass 24 credits (36 at quarter schools) before the start of the sophomore year;
- Declare a major by the start of the junior year;
- Have completed 40% of your degree by the start of the junior year followed by 60% at the start of the senior year and 80% before the fifth year; and
- Stay at or near the required GPA for graduation at the school (usually 2.0).
If a student-athlete is at a semester school in a 120 unit degree program (one of the most common situations), those degree progress percentages translate to 24 credits every year, just like freshmen. It’s at the intersection of the 18-unit rule (sticking with the semester rules from here on out), the degree progress requirements, and the new summer school requirement that the rule can be abused.
Simply put, the new summer school requirement does not require a men’s basketball student-athlete to earn any additional credits. Assuming that a freshman men’s basketball student-athlete passes 18 units during the academic year and six units during the spring, they can be eligible by passing six units over the summer. If they participate in summer practice, they can be eligible in the fall by passing the same six units.
This has the effect of reducing the incentive for a coach to promote sufficient academic progress during the academic year. Say a coach intends to have every returning student-athlete participate in practice over the summer. Every player on the team will need to pass six units in the summer to be eligible. What incentive does the coach have to promote passing all 24 units (on average) that a student-athlete needs to stay eligible during the academic year if they’re just going to have to pass six more in the summer?
The difference between 24 units and 30 is a big deal, because it’s the difference between a four- and five-year graduation track. Throw in the summer bridge program for freshman and a couple of extra classes here and there and we can get to the ideal: a 3.5 year graduation track that means student-athletes who drop out of school after their senior season to prepare for the draft have already graduated (still hurts the APR though).
The solution would be to allow only student-athletes who have achieved eligibility for the following fall at the conclusion of the academic year to participate in summer practice. That would provide a real competitive advantage to programs that promote greater academic achievement in the fall and spring. Plus it would make all the credits earned in the summer “new credits,” not previously required. The trade-off is that some coaches may dissuade student-athletes from taking summer school if they feel the risk of losing eligibility for the fall is too great.
Every rule can be abused. Every rule is going to be picked over by people looking to gain an advantage, or in this case get something (summer practice) for nothing (extra academic achievement). The challenge is not to make rules that have no loopholes. The challenge is to make rules with loopholes that we can live with.
The opinions expressed on this blog are the author’s and the author’s alone, and are not endorsed by the NCAA or any NCAA member institution or conference. This blog is not a substitute for a compliance office.