By David Pickle
New Division II academic requirements are a long way from approval and even further from implementation, but a membership examination of the issue appears to be headed more in the direction of nuanced, rather than radical, change.
The Division II Academic Requirements Task Force −which is responsible for reviewing academic legislation governing initial eligibility, two-year college transfers and progress toward degree requirements– is vetting concepts with various constituent groups through the fall. The goal is to develop a model that ensures a student-athlete’s path to graduation through a seamless process that begins with initial-eligibility requirements and continues all the way through progress-toward-degree standards, establishing benchmarks to graduation along the way.
The most recent vetting sessions were with leadership of the DII Athletic Directors and Collegiate Commissioners Associations early in the month and the Division II Management Council on Monday. Presentations to the entire membership will occur at the January Convention.
Keith Vitense, faculty athletics representative at Cameron University and chair of the Academic Requirements Task Force, said the greatest challenge is found in the often-conflicted goals of increasing graduation rates while also maintaining (or enhancing) access to higher education, especially for economically disadvantaged student-athletes.
“We really want to live in a perfect world,” Vitense said, “but we really, really don’t. So we’re looking for small gains, and part of the task of the committee is trying to decide which is more important. Is it more important to get a small gain in the predicted graduation rate, or is it more important to get a small gain in participation?”
As a result, the concepts being advanced for initial eligibility are rather conservative, tending a bit toward greater access.
The current Division II initial-eligibility standard is graduation from high school, a 2.0 grade-point average in 14 core courses and an 820 SAT or 68 ACT score. A prospect who graduates but fails to meet both the GPA and test-score requirements is a nonqualifier; meeting only one results in the prospective student-athlete being considered a partial qualifier.
The task force originally was intrigued by data that suggested the division could achieve similar graduation rates and improve access by elevating the grade-point average requirement to 2.2 and eliminating the test-score requirement. That concept, however, was poorly received in several membership settings over the summer.
In response, the task force has advanced two initial-eligibility models.
In the first model, a GPA of at least 2.0 would be required for full qualification in all cases, with higher GPAs required for those scoring 920 or lower on the SAT. A sliding eligibility scale would extend from 920 SAT/2.0 GPA through 520 SAT/3.0 GPA.
Prospects scoring a 2.0 but not meeting the test-score requirement would be considered partial qualifiers; those below 2.0 would be nonqualifiers, regardless of test score.
The second option would be to establish a 2.2 minimum GPA for full qualifiers, again with higher GPA requirements for those with lower test scores – in this case, starting at 840. The line for full qualifiers would extend from 840 SAT/2.2 GPA through 520 SAT/3.0 GPA (as with option 1).
Partial qualifiers would be those with a GPA between 2.0 and 2.2, with a higher GPA required for those with a test score of 820 and below (the line would extend to 420 SAT/3.0 GPA − parallel to the line for full qualifiers). Nonqualifiers would be those who scored below the partial qualifier standard.
Regarding two-year college transfers, the task force developed concepts for qualifiers with no four-year attendance and only one semester of attendance at the two-year college and all other two-year college transfers. For those with no four-year attendance and only one semester of attendance, the requirements would be:
For all other two-year college transfers (qualifiers with more than one semester of attendance, 4-2-4 transfers, partial qualifiers and nonqualifiers), the concept would require:
Significantly, two-year college students who earn an associate’s degree also would be considered eligible for competition. Also, nonqualifiers with less than a 2.3 GPA but more than a 2.0 and meeting other requirements would be eligible for financial aid and practice in their first year at the Division II institution, but not competition. Qualifiers and partial qualifiers who do not meet the standards would continue to be able to practice and receive athletics aid in their first year due to their initial eligibility status.
“I think the two-year college transfer concept is the closest to being polished and ready for presentation,” Vitense said. “But it’s still not there yet. We need input.”
One primary appeal is that the model continues to encourage persistence to graduation by not adding requirements for transfers who earn an associate’s degree. However, the approach adds significant teeth elsewhere.
“The big change,” Vitense said, “and it’s really a data-driven change, is the additional requirements on somebody who is transferring from a two-year school who does not have their associate’s degree.”
The progress-toward-degree concept is in a more formative state than the initial-eligibility or two-year college transfer models. At their recent meetings, the ADs, commissioners and Management Council saw a model that would establish standards for the number of credit hours that must be completed term-by-term and at various mileposts. The model also included grade-point requirements after each year, along with a single percentage-of-degree check after the third year.
One complication is that the task force’s examination is occurring at the same time as a parallel discussion in higher education about the appropriate time frame from enrollment to graduation. The current approach in athletics is built on a five-year model, but some educators envision four years.
Vitense said the task force discussed the issue, and the preliminary concept that emerged is something of a mix between a 4.5 and a five-year model.
Even so, Vitense said he didn’t believe development of a four-year academic model could proceed without a larger philosophical examination.
“If we were to endorse the four-year model as the NCAA model, there’s a lot more significant legislation that would have to be changed, not just the academic piece,” he said. “You’ve got 10 semesters to complete your four seasons, based on the five-year model. That would have to change. There are lots of other things that would have to change.”
He reminded members that schools are free to exceed NCAA minimums at any time. “I know of some schools across the country that are more stringent, and they hold to that,” he said.
All of the task force concepts have been based on data from the NCAA research staff and molded by membership reaction.
“You have to understand that I’m a chemist, and I like things to be ‘A’ or ‘B,’ and processing the membership’s reaction is an art,” he said. “The way I might look at it as an FAR could be completely different from somebody would look at it as an AD or conference commissioner.
“So it’s really been the art of compromise. And it’s on the task force’s shoulders to come up with the best compromise for the Association.”