It took almost a year to write guidelines for the recruitment of athletes at the University of Maryland because of continued uncertainty about a new, tougher NCAA eligibility rule, according to William Kirwan, the school's vice chancellor for academic affairs.
It was only last month that NCAA officials decided to take a hard line on Proposition 48, setting new standards for freshman eligibility for the upcoming academic year. Now any modification must be minor in the rule that requires a minimum test score and a 2.0 grade-point average in 11 academic courses.
At Maryland, all admissions fall into one of three categories: preferred, regular and individual. "Proposition 48, as it happens, is about identical to our individual admission," said Kirwan. Thus, according to both Kirwan and Linda Clement, director of undergraduate admissions, there is no substantive change in Maryland's admission policy for athletes.
The policy became a source of friction last spring when five of the football players Coach Bobby Ross signed and thought were admissible later were rejected by the admissions department. The lack of written guidelines and of a commitment from the university to make improvements in Byrd Stadium resulted in Ross signing a one-year contract a year ago, instead of a 10-year deal to which he had agreed.
According to the guidelines drafted by Kirwan, any athlete who qualifies under the terms of Proposition 48 -- now NCAA Bylaw 5-1-(j) -- will be eligible for regular admission to Maryland. In addition, the athletic department may sign as exceptions as many as 15 athletes in all sports. Those 15 will be ineligible for practice or competition as freshmen and be placed in a special support program run by academicians. The exact terms of the guidelines will not become public record until later this month.
Kirwan and Clement say they don't have any problem with the relationship between athletics and academics at Maryland.
"The athletic program is in sync with the standards and overall goals of the institution," Kirwan said.
"There is calm at this point in time," Clement said. "Things have been communicated. We've worked out some guidelines that everyone can live with."
Kirwan called the dialogue concerning the guidelines very positive. "They (athletics) appreciate having the document. It will add clarity," he said. "There are athletes and coaches working toward having the strongest possible athletic teams. And, in academic affairs, we're trying to build the best possible academic program. So, sometimes we see matters from a different perspective."
The five players Maryland turned down subsequently were admitted on a conditional basis to summer school, with the understanding that they would not be able to play or practice as freshmen. Two are now in the university proper, two are attending University College and will be admitted to the university proper next month if they have a C average, and the fifth dropped out.
The written guidelines will preclude conditional admittees in the future. Clement said. "It's not good for them, and it's not good for us," she said.
The confusion arose because athletes with the same credentials as these five apparently had been admitted in the past. But, as Clement pointed out, "admissions standards were changing."
"He (Ross) was probably operating on his experiences in the past," Kirwan said. "He knew something about the admissions process, the kind of things we look for in special admissions."
In the future, Clement said, coaches will make a better effort to have at least an unofficial transcript available before the signing date and will emphasize to the athletes they are recruiting the importance of taking the college boards as juniors.
Clement said grade-point average is given much more weight than test scores, and that a number of intangibles are considered, too -- "everything from leadership to depth of involvement in activities."
"No student is admitted as an exception without a great deal of research beyond what is on the transcript," she said.
Her bottom line: "Admitting students for whom College Park will provide a good education and a degree."
Clement is a football and basketball fan, holding season tickets in both sports. As a fan, she even laments Ross' previous concern about the inequity of recruiting as a result of the old NCAA rule of a 2.0 overall average in high school only being needed to obtain a scholarship at some schools.
"I see people I rejected in the starting lineup (for other teams)," Clement said, "and I look in the box score to see how many points they scored."