The independent news organization of Duke University

NCAA mulls eligibility expansion

As graduation rates for men’s basketball and football players remain alarmingly low, coaches are pushing to extend athletes’ NCAA eligibility for an additional year.

Even if the proposals from the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the ACC for football are adopted, the possibility of Olympic sports following suit remains unclear.

The ACC-generated football legislation, dubbed the “5-for-5” rule by the conference, was forwarded to the NCAA July 12 and proposes that student athletes can play for five years. Officials hope that players will stay in school to graduate if they can continue to play.

“When a regular student is taking 4.8 years on the average to graduate,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said, “and you consider the demands on our student athletes at this time, it’s a reasonable approach.”

Duke graduates 83 percent of its football players and had the highest graduation rate in Division I football in 2003, but eight of the 11 ACC schools graduate less than 54 percent of their players.

With graduation rates for men’s basketball players even lower than those for football, Duke men’s basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski, among others, has championed similar legislation, approved unanimously in July by the NABC.

The basketball legislation is backed by NCAA President Myles Brand, whose organization would have to approve the changes for both sports.

“I believe the main purpose is to increase graduation rates in men’s basketball, which has had the most severe problem,” Brand said of the NABC package.

Detractors say the extension of eligibility would rob potential student-athletes of scholarships because the programs would have to spread their allotment over five years instead of four. Ultimately this could deter Olympic sports from adopting similar policies, even if they are implemented by basketball and football.

The ideas behind the ACC’s football package have been circulating for 18 months. It is the first formal proposal for such a change since 1994, said Shane Lyons, the league’s associate commissioner for compliance. A decade ago similar proposals were considered but withdrawn in Division I and rejected in Division II.

The current football proposals would abolish redshirting and medical hardship cases in which athletes can appeal for an additional year of eligibility.

Duke senior cornerback Kenny Stanford said he was in favor of the proposal because it would give players a chance for both an improved education and more time to play football.

If several NCAA committees recommend the proposals, they will be sent to the NCAA Board of Directors for a vote at the April convention in Indianapolis, Ind. Questions remain about whether the potential changes would trickle down to other sports, but there is no current similar legislation for Olympic sports.

Duke women’s tennis head coach Jamie Ashworth said there had not been dialogue about the changes at the sport’s most recent set of NCAA meetings but that “if football and basketball go [to five years of eligibility], every other sport will go. That is what happens to all the rules usually.”

Despite this possibility, Duke field hockey head coach Beth Bozman is not in favor of five years of eligibility in her sport.

“I guess you keep kids for five years, but it is the opposite of the student athlete philosophy,” Bozman said. “It’s the same reason we tend not to redshirt. We think you’re in and out in four years and that’s the way it should be.”


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