The argument over Montgomery County's new eligibility rules continues and coaches across the county have joined in the debate.

The Montgomery County Board of Education voted, 5-3, on Tuesday night to stiffen the grade requirements for eligibility in extracurricular activities, including athletics, beginning next September. The new rule demands that students maintain a 2.0 grade point average while receiving no more than one failing mark per grading period. Previously, there was no minimum grade average but students couldn't fail a course.

"I guess I'm in favor of it if it will improve academic performance," Gaithersburg football coach John Harvill said. "I do question it, though, that I think the kids they're trying to affect aren't the kinds of kids that are involved in activities. Talking as an educator, not a coach, it won't affect the kids it needs to. It also pertains almost exclusively to athletics, not bands or plays. In some respects, athletics is a whipping boy."

Kennedy soccer coach Jeff Schultz said there shouldn't be any problem for student athletes to meet the new standards.

"Anyone can maintain a 2.0 in school if they work hard and get extra help if they need it," he said. "The vast majority of kids are there for the education. Football, or soccer, or whatever may be first, but their education is important. We won't know how effective the policy is until it's been in effect for a year or two."

John Barrett, basketball coach at Springbrook, said he thinks the rule change is "a step in the right direction" but worries that athletes will take easier courses to maintain eligibility.

"It may make students take subjects not as difficult as they should," he said. "But in order for these athletes to play college basketball, this needs to be implemented to bring the standards up."

Whitman cross-country coach Karry Ward said strict rules such as these in other areas have caused schools to pad the grades of star athletes.

"I don't know of anything like that around here," he said. "Is Montgomery County like Texas? You'd like to think that this school system wouldn't put up with that, but it remains to be seen."

Despite these concerns, most coaches agree the athletics departments are going to have to take greater responsibility in the academic performance of their athletes.

"Athletes and standards are a coming issue," Bethesda-Chevy Chase field hockey coach Mike Carroll said. "They will force schools to deal with athletes on two levels: athletically and academically. If they don't, they're just exploiting them."