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October 24, 2003

Tougher academic rules in play for Cyclone student-athletes

by Diana Pounds
The freshmen who joined Cyclone athletics teams this fall have to focus earlier on their career goals and be more attentive to their GPAs than their older teammates.

They begin their academic careers under the National Collegiate Athletic Association's tougher, new standards for classroom performance. If they want to play, these student-athletes will have to show faster progress toward their degrees than their predecessors.

The new academic standards are part of a series of NCAA reforms championed by Division I university presidents and chancellors.

"The NCAA is strengthening academic requirements and expectations, with the goal of raising student-athlete graduation rates," said Paula Morrow, University Professor of management and Iowa State's faculty athletics representative to the NCAA and Big 12 Conference.

Under the new NCAA rules, this year's freshmen and future athletes will remain eligible for competition if they complete 40 percent of their degree requirements and earn at least 1.9 grade-point averages after two years of college. Three years in, they'll need to be 60 percent of the way toward their degrees and have 2.0 GPAs. After the fourth year, those numbers climb to 80 percent with a 2.0 GPA.

The requirement, often called the "40-60-80" rule, replaces the less ambitious "25-50-75" rule, which required student-athletes to complete 25 percent of degree requirements after two years, 50 percent after three, and 75 percent after four.

Junior college transfers will face the same requirements. For example, a student-athlete who started junior college this fall and transfers to Iowa State two years from now must enter the university with 40 percent of his or her degree requirements completed.

Unlike some of their classmates, student-athletes will not be able to remain undecided about their majors until late in their college careers, Morrow said. "They must set their career goals early and work toward them. If they change majors frequently, or even more than once, it could be difficult for them to maintain academic eligibility."

The NCAA also is phasing in new requirements for high school athletes who want to play intercollegiate games. The number of core courses that future college athletes need to complete in high schools will be bumped up from 13 to 14 for freshmen entering college in 2005. By 2007, the requirement will be 16 core courses.

As in the past, high school athletes need at least a 2.0 grade-point average to be eligible for college sports. However, the NCAA is phasing out its minimum test score requirements (820 on the SAT or 68 on the ACT) in favor of a sliding scale that links test requirements to students' high school GPAs.

Those with better grade-points don't have to score as well on the SAT or ACT under the new system. For example, a student with a 2.0 grade-point average would need a 1010 SAT score or 86 ACT score to be eligible to play college sports. However, a student with a 3.0 GPA could qualify with a 620 SAT or 52 ACT score.

The first part of NCAA academic reforms focused on toughening student eligibility standards, Morrow said. NCAA committees already are at work on an anticipated sequel -- rewarding or penalizing athletic teams and programs based on their success in retaining and graduating students.

Those reforms are probably a couple of years away and details are yet to be worked out, Morrow added. But rewards for academically successful athletic programs might include, for example, more athletic scholarships, recruiting benefits or additional funds through conference and NCAA revenue-distribution formulas.

Iowa State fields 18 NCAA intercollegiate teams.

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