Back in the summer and early fall, there was a great deal of consternation about why it seemed so many men’s basketball prospects were being declared nonqualifiers. The biggest reason is that nontraditional courses had to meet a much higher bar that before. That left fewer “quick fixes” available to athletes who were just short of being qualifiers.
Now a new trend has started, one foreshadowed back in the fall. Instead of reclassifying to the following academic year, some men’s basketball prospects are completing the initial eligibility requirements during the fall semester and enrolling in the spring. This makes them eligible to start playing and practicing once the fall semester or quarter ends.
This is allowed because while men’s basketball has rules against midyear transfers competing right away, there is no such rule for incoming freshmen. As an example, here is Bylaw 184.108.40.206.3, which covers a midyear transfer from a junior college by a student-athlete who was not a qualifier:
Bylaw 220.127.116.11.3 – Baseball and Basketball – Midyear Enrollee.
In baseball and basketball, a student who was not a qualifier (per Bylaw 18.104.22.168) who satisfies the provisions of Bylaw 22.214.171.124, but initially enrolls at a certifying institution as a full-time student after the conclusion of the institution’s first term of the academic year, shall not be eligible for competition until the ensuing academic year.
There are similar rules for a junior college transfer who was a qualifier, a 4–2–4 transfer, and a transfer from a four-year college who qualifies for an exception to the one-year residence requirement. The only missing situation is an incoming freshman.
A prospect who fails to qualify is, according to the NCAA’s definition, not yet ready to handle the rigors of both college academics and Division I competition. Even though these prospects eventually completed the requirements, they required extra time and in some cases a different environment (i.e. prep school). It is a population that definitely needs extra attention and resources.
But by coming in as midyear enrollees, these prospects seem to have increased the degree of difficulty. Instead of acclimating to college before the basketball season tips off, they jump straight into midseason basketball activities, then are expected to add a full academic load on top of that. Midyear enrollees also have a tougher adjustment to college without many of the same orientation activities that happen in the fall. Not to mention that professors generally assume that most freshmen have a semester of college under their belt in the spring.
A similar issue is being debated in football surrounding spring enrollees. To enroll in the spring, prospects must complete the initial eligibility requirements in seven rather than eight semesters. But some spring enrollees are not on track to be qualifers after eight semesters when they start their senior year. That raises the question of whether it is academically sound to go from behind to ahead in a shortened time frame.
Luckily, the NCAA members do not need to rely on what seems right. If the trend continues, there will eventually be a large enough set of data to determine if nonqualifiers who are get eligible and enroll in the spring graduate, stay eligible, and are retained at a significantly lower rate. At that point, it is just a question of what type of rule might fix it. Something like this perhaps:
Bylaw 126.96.36.199.3 – Men’s Basketball – Midyear Enrollee (DRAFT).
In men’s basketball, a student-athlete is not eligible for competition until the following academic year if:
- The student-athlete was not a qualifier based on his academic record as of the first day of classes for the certifying institution’s first term of the academic year; and
- The student-athlete enrolls at the certifying institution following the completion of the first term.
(Note: This rule does not exist and is not being discussed anywhere but in this post.)
Obviously there are many possible tweaks. Including more sports, including qualifiers, fiddling with dates, etc. A rule like that would create a strong incentive to go to prep school for a whole year, while not preventing an athlete from enrolling if that is ultimately his choice and a scholarship is available (although new conference nonqualifier rules could do just that).
That is all down the road though. There is never a problem until there is a problem, and right now there is only a potential problem. Something to keep an eye on, and maybe down the road something that requires a response.
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.