Everybody wins with new classroom rule?

August, 16, 2010
8/16/10
11:15
AM ET
Last week, when yours truly was on mini-vacation in the fine city of New York, N.Y., the NCAA's board of directors put forward a potentially interesting rules change. And unless I'm missing something, it's that rarest breed of NCAA rule changes: a win-win for everybody involved.

The rule itself would make academic standards in college basketball more rigorous. Upon their enrollment in the summer, incoming freshmen would have their academic records assessed by university officials. Players who need more class work under the new guidelines would then have to take at least six credit hours in the summer -- earning at least three of those hours -- to become eligible to play in the fall.

The rule seems harsh, but that's only if you're not a college basketball coach. Under the new rule, by enrolling in those hours, players enrolled in classes could attend up to eight hours per week of coach-designated strength and conditioning time. Two of those weekly hours could be used for "skill development" with the basketball coaching staff.

In other words, the NCAA would get what it wants -- a greater institutional focus on the academic readiness of incoming freshmen. Coaches, meanwhile, get something they've wanted for years -- more time spent with incoming freshmen during the summer months.

It's hard to find negatives in this scenario. The NCAA's rules about time spent with players in the summer months are a little outdated; coaches are often forced to watch their players participate in "open gyms" and strength-training sessions from afar, and just about any coach would happily take more actual skill development time in the summer, even if that time is limited to two hours per week. You can get a lot done in two hours per week, even it's just a matter of advising your players on the proper ways to use their other individual workout time. That time is not inconsequential. And, naturally, coaches get to bolster their APR scores, which is never a bad thing either.

Of course, the NCAA -- and anyone remotely interested in the idea that student-athletes should actually, you know, be students -- gets to beef up the summer academic routine, too. If the organization has to make a trade to get there, all the better. Many incoming freshmen already enroll in second-session summer classes in order to move to their college towns a few months early anyway. Why not make sure schools are spending that time ensuring academic progress?

Players win. Coaches win. The NCAA wins.

The only losers in this scenario are schools that don't offer the summer classes their students need. Those schools would be forced to forgo the summer school and extra practices; players wouldn't be allowed to take classes they didn't need merely to have the extra practice time. You could argue that having players take extra classes, even with redundant curriculum, is a good way for them to start their college careers anyway. Time in the classroom is never a bad thing. (Unless your professor makes you put away your laptop and take notes with a notebook. Everybody hated that guy.)

But the rule as currently proposed -- assuming university officials and athletics departments policed themselves correctly -- would prevent every school and every player from taking advantage of the new opportunity. Some players wouldn't get that extra classroom work or the extra eight hours of summer workout time. Others would. That seems a bit funky.

On the whole, though, the NCAA seems to have come up with a great little tradeoff for summer eligibility. More than that, actually: The NCAA's board directors have proposed a rule that's almost unabusable. (Unlike my approach to the English language, which is why I can write words like "unabusable.")

Imagine this scenario: A coach is trying to get his newly minted freshman star in for more summer workouts. To do so, the coach has to make sure that player can take summer classes. Whether he wants to or not, that incoming freshman might actually become better educated, getting an even bigger jump-start on his collegiate academics in the process. Sounds terrible, right?

Please, college coaches: Abuse this system. I'm having a hard time finding anything wrong with it.

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