The independent news organization of Duke University

5th year an air ball for NCAA

A current proposal to extend NCAA eligibility for men�s basketball and football to five years would not improve graduation rates and would have a negative effect on collegiate athletics as a whole.

When the NCAA Board of Directors sits down this April to discuss all things college athletics, it could have one important five-course meal on its plate. The National Association of Basketball Coaches, of which Mike Krzyzewski is a former president, and the Atlantic Coast Conference, which has acted on behalf of its football programs, are giving momentum to a proposed rule change that would expand NCAA eligibility to five years. But hidden agendas might be driving the change home.

The main impetus for the additional year of athletic qualification is to improve the abominable graduation rates of student-athletes, particularly in men’s basketball and football. Duke, however, is an anomaly, graduating 83 percent of its football players, the highest in Division I football in 2003. And although the men’s basketball team has been susceptible to some graduation rate issues, those stem more from outstanding players who leave early for the NBA than academic struggles.

Are basketball coaches and ACC football powers really trying to help their athletes graduate more often—or do they just want their star seniors to suit up for another year? College coaches shouldn’t abuse alarm over graduation rates as a carrot to strengthen their rosters.

An extra year at school for a Duke basketball or football player might ease the burden on the busy life of a student-athlete, but in the end those athletes who tend to put academics on the backburner will only leave them there. So with that fifth year of eligibility, graduation rates could still present the embarrassing face they do now on the college game. And, if nothing else, the new package would make Duke’s more athletically inclined competition even stronger.

The football proposal from the ACC would effectively render freshman redshirting and lengthy medical excuses useless, but the more over-arching pitfall of the potential shift would be diminished scholarship opportunities. With programs forced to spread their scholarship allotments over the course of an extra year, fewer student-athletes would get a shot at that free ride that has long justified the place of big-time college athletics.

A huge reason Krzyzewski has pushed for the NABC’s proposed package is that the additional eligibility would come into effect along with increased opportunities for coaches to interact with their players during the year and on the recruiting trail. Although those are enticing additions to the NCAA rule book, they couldn’t ever make up for the easy road a fifth year of eligibility paves for college athletics, both in the classroom and on the court.

And as if it wasn’t bad enough already, a rift between the revenue and non-revenue programs could deepen if the Olympic sports maintain the status quo. For the most part, colleges lack the financial resources to support an increase in the number of scholarships to support five classes of athletes.

Indeed, college is meant to be a four-year experience, and the last thing we want to see the NCAA enact is another barrier between athletes and non-athletes.

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