Graduation rates for men's college basketball players are low, transfer rates are high and a special NCAA committee wants to do something about both problems. The committee, known as the NCAA Division I Working Group to Study Basketball Issues, is strongly considering several drastic proposals, including one that would make freshmen ineligible to play men's basketball.
The committee is weighing a variety of possible NCAA rules changes, including making freshmen ineligible for an entire season or for their first semester; moving the start of the season back by a month, to mid-December; and annually tying each school's scholarship allotment to its graduation rate. According to the NCAA's latest statistics, 41 percent of Division I men's basketball players who entered college in the fall of 1991 graduated within six years -- 16 percentage points below the average for all athletes.
The working group, whose possible recommendations first were reported by USA Today, is almost certain to propose at least one NCAA rules change when it convenes June 23 in Chicago. The committee was formed mainly in reaction to the increasing number of men's basketball players who transfer or leave college early for the NBA draft. The panel has been examining issues related to men's and women's basketball, but conversations about possible rules changes have centered on the men's game.
"The working group will continue its discussion [about making freshmen ineligible] as it moves toward the final set of recommendations, but I continue to support the concept," NCAA Executive Director Cedric Dempsey said yesterday in a statement.
Despite Dempsey's support, there is significant opposition to the idea. In an NCAA survey of administrators and coaches this past fall, 74.7 percent of the respondents said they either "disagree" or "strongly disagree" with the notion that men's basketball players should be ineligible as freshmen, compared with 11.5 percent who said they "agree" or "firmly agree."
There are multiple reasons for the objections. Some officials and coaches questioned the premise that ineligibility would improve players' academic performance.
"If freshmen are struggling, how come they are almost all eligible as sophomores?" asked Jim Haney, executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches and a member of the committee.
Haney said the real problem is that too many players are "majoring in eligibility" -- taking the minimum number of the easiest possible classes to remain full-time students and achieve acceptable grade-point averages, rather than taking class loads that would result in a degrees within six years.
Making freshmen ineligible likely would mean an increase in the men's basketball scholarship limit of 13 per year. Such an increase may not sit well with some administrators working with tight budgets. Also, with an increase in scholarships, the elite programs could stockpile more top players, which could draw objections from representatives of smaller Division I conferences.
Then there is the matter of whether making freshmen ineligible would prompt more high school players to skip college altogether.
"What do we do . . . turn their heads away from [college] and let them go on and try for the NBA and not go to college?" Temple Coach John Chaney asked. "How does that solve the problem? I can't believe these guys. And these are the leaders of the NCAA."
Nonetheless, proponents of legislation, such as Iowa State Athletic Director Gene Smith, say change not only is necessary, it's on the way.
"Something will surface," said Smith, a member of the special committee. "We are committed to providing our membership with some recommendations on how to protect the game and improve the environment."
Smith said the committee is unlikely to recommend tying each school's number of scholarships to its graduation rate because the concept is too difficult to effectively implement.
Once the committee makes its recommendations, the proposals still will be at least two steps from becoming actual rules changes. The NCAA Division I Management Council, a group of 34 athletic directors and faculty representatives, would have to decide whether to pass them on to the Division I Board of Directors, a group of 15 college presidents and chancellors that must approve changes in NCAA rules that apply to all Division I schools.