It’s madness to let college freshmen play. Restore NCAA freshman ineligibility rules.

Should freshmen be allowed to play on NCAA teams or should freshmen ineligibility rules be restored? (AP Photo)

Should freshmen be allowed to play on NCAA teams or should freshmen ineligibility rules be restored? (AP Photo)

With tonight’s final game of the Final Four, here’s a provocative op-ed piece from the Monday print education page urging a ban on college freshmen playing NCAA sports. This essay is by Maggie Severns, a program associate for the Education Policy program at the New America Foundation.


By Maggie Severns

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan ushered in the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament  by telling the media that schools should only qualify for post-season play if they are on track to graduate at least 40 percent of their players.

In a column for the Washington Post, Duncan wrote, “When I raised the issue of low graduation rates among men’s teams last year, skeptical sportswriters said I didn’t understand the realities of big-time college basketball. But every year, the litany of excuses for why basketball teams cannot graduate most players and still have a championship team is less convincing.”

The argument by Duncan, who is a basketball player and fan himself, has been made by many critics, including the Knight Commission for Intercollegiate Athletics, which proposed restricting participation to only those programs that graduated more than half of their players.

And rightfully so: men’s college basketball does a poor job of graduating its players, with 10 of the original 68 teams in the tournament not meeting the “50 percent” benchmark this year. This leaves players who don’t go professional — the vast majority of them —without the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the real world.

“The NCAA has made considerable progress in recent years boosting the academic performance of Division I teams,”  wrote Duncan. “But the bar for postseason play is still too low: In effect, teams must now be on track to graduate fewer than 40 percent of their players for six years running to potentially be ineligible for postseason play. Last year, out of more than 6,000 NCAA intercollegiate sports teams, one squad in men’s basketball was banned from postseason play because of a poor academic record.”

Many sportswriters and fans, on the other hand, think that Duncan’s viewpoint is out of touch and that critics of NCAA basketball and football need to come to grips with the fact that, for many athletes who play for hugely popular athletics programs, the sport is simply more important than the degree.

At Higher Ed Watch, a public policy blog published by the New America Foundation, we have a different problem with Duncan’s suggestion: we don’t think he goes far enough.

If teams were forced to have to meet a graduation rate requirement in order to compete in the tournament, problems with cheating and academic dishonesty among players and schools would be even more rampant than they are today while the immense pressure for the players to succeed on the court would be as strong as ever.

Considering the lax oversight the NCAA provides, this would not be an adequate solution for mending what is broken in Division 1 basketball.

To really get players on track to graduate, the NCAA should take a tip from its old playbook: freshmen ineligibility. We believe that the NCAA should make all Division 1 football and men’s basketball players ineligible to play during their freshmen year so they have time to adjust and ground themselves academically during the time they need it most. Then, student athletes would at least have a handle on academics before trying to balance their dual roles.

For much of the 20th century, freshmen ineligibility was standard for all varsity college sports. In 1972, however, the NCAA overturned the rule, mostly because colleges felt they were losing too much money off of scholarships and expenses on freshmen players who were not earning their keep on the court.

However, revenue among college sports conferences have been skyrocketing in recent years, with the Southeastern Conference (SEC) reaping over $1 billion in revenue this year alone. Considering the massive amounts of money colleges are currently making off of their unpaid student athletes, they should be able to afford a change that aids the long-term well-being of their players.

It’s true that college basketball would look a little different if the NCAA restored freshmen ineligibility. The sport would no longer be an unofficial farm league for the NBA, and a handful of star players would likely play in Europe or take other alternative paths to going professional.

But the vast majority of players would remain, and those who chose to become student athletes would have better opportunities to engage academically. And for those students who chose to skip college and go pro as soon as possible?

They’ll leave more scholarships for well-deserving young athletes who are committed to the college experience. Some of the scandals revolving around player’s agents, too, would very likely disappear if students who attend college purely as a stepping stone to the professional leagues are weeded out.

Pragmatically speaking, we may be as “out of touch” as Secretary Duncan. But growing concerns about lasting injuries and their effects on the wellbeing of college athletes, the outrageous salaries paid to coaches, and the nefarious role of agents and “runners” on college campuses are bringing the NCAA under scrutiny — and putting the organization out of touch with its own mission to govern college sports and integrate athletics programs with higher education. The time has come for the NCAA to reel itself in and start doing a better job of supporting its players.

–From Maureen Downey for the AJC Get Schooled blog

48 comments Add your comment


April 4th, 2011
7:17 am

The voucher system on a grand stage.

Go Raiders!


April 4th, 2011
7:34 am

Smacks of discrimination to me and Im sure some other will feel the same.


April 4th, 2011
7:37 am

If there were a type of ‘minor league’ for football and basketball as there is in basesball, some of those athletes would probably opt for that. Eliminate freshman eligibility in those sports and perhaps the top tier high school graduates (especially those that would have a hard time getting into college) will seek other options so they can make money sooner. What impact will that have on the quality of play?

The NCAA is making a LOT of money of ’student athetes’ and won’t give that up with a fight. A student athlete can’t even make money off their likeness being used on electronic games, it all belongs to the NCAA.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Augusta

April 4th, 2011
8:16 am

Whatever it takes to move from the enrollee-athlete to the student-athlete at not only the collegiate- but also the secondary-level.

Teacher Reader

April 4th, 2011
8:23 am

Make sure that these kids graduate high school being able to do the basics would be the first step. I remember sitting in classes with school athletes who were unable to read, but could play basketball. These kids are being used in high school and in college and it’s a crime.


April 4th, 2011
8:30 am

I don’t think the ban on freshmen basketball or football players makes sense, nor do I think it will have an especially positive effect. What about tennis players? What about women?

Athletes will take school seriously IF they value it. Many of them have merely tolerated school for 12 years, and believe they have a great future if they can hang in college for 2-3 more years. We do everything to feed this idea, making their college experience as painless as possible–increased academic help to keep them eligible, registering first for class, study halls, housing, food, tutors and notetakers–you name it. Real hard to feel sorry for them. Real students don’t get this kind of help.

Do I feel sorry for athletes who are “abused” when the college makes bucks off them? Not at all. They have a valuable benefit available to them in return for doing what they love in sports. Until we treat all students with the same care the athletes get, you won’t get any sympathy from me.


April 4th, 2011
8:35 am

This is ridiculous. If freshman couldn’t play, they would skip college all together and enter the draft…some college is better than no college.

Concerned parent

April 4th, 2011
8:37 am

As a parent of a child who is playing high school sports and hopes to play Division I sports, I think that something should be mandated so that these students get educated. At the end of the day, that is why you go to school, I req that my kids have a 3.5 GPA or above if they want to participate in high school athletics. I also agree with Teacher Reader, they need to be prepared for college, regular students are coming out of high school barely able to compete with college level courses so student athletes often have an even harder time with the transition. the “pros” are great but if you can’t read your contract what good does it do??

NW Ga Math/Science Teacher

April 4th, 2011
8:42 am

@ Dr No

Discrimination against whom? Those that don’t belong in college – well, yes. If you mean to imply some racial agenda, it sounds to me like that’s in your head, not the original proposal. Oh, wait – I see it. It says “men’s” basketball in the original piece. I apologize – you’re right. That should probably include both sides of the gender issue in order to be fair.’

Everyone Else:

From the HS teacher perspective, it would remove some of the pressure for students who do not qualify for college to somehow get “magically qualified” so that we aren’t denying them a chance at success!


April 4th, 2011
8:43 am

Bunch of wussie, envious educrats. I’d love to see this one go to the Supreme Court. If any changes need to be made, it should be by the NCAA. They need to get with current realities.

That said, student-athletes need to be held accountable to uphold the educational conditions of their scholorships. If not met, off the team. Putting the onus on coaching staffs… no problem with me.


April 4th, 2011
8:52 am

That might be alright for the men but to be honest . . . female college athletes are graduating and going on to their own careers. A few are fortunate enough to go to the WNBA, but it doesn’t quite mean as much as the NBA because of the salary. The women are realists. The men, not so much. The mentality of the male athlete has to change. Men see the pros as their ultimate goal, despite the stats that show only a handful will make it. Sports should not be the end all and be all.

A Conservative Voice

April 4th, 2011
8:58 am

One of the main reasons our school systems are in such a mess is this idiot who is “Arne Duncan” is focusing in on things he absolutely should not have any control over. Does he really think college presidents would agree to any such thing. College sports are bigger than that you, Arne…..butt out. Besides, outstanding black BB players don’t, as a rule, go to college for the education, they use it as a springboard to get to the pros…..get real. College Sports is a business, big, big business.


April 4th, 2011
9:00 am

I could not agree more. College basketball is a farce with people like Calipari milking the system and these kids for millions. The sport is being ruined by the one and done players. KY players don’t even know where the campus is. Level the playing field and treat these athletes as the students they are supposed to be. If the NBA won’t act then the colleges should do it for the good of all concerned.


April 4th, 2011
9:04 am

If anything, I believe just the opposite. I think players should have to commit to a minimum of 3 years in college.

Gives the player more time to develop as a person (ie- mature) and forces them to stay academically eligible longer in order to keep playing. The closer they can get to that degree, the more likely they are to graduate.

Not to mention that the longer players stay in school the better the play is on the court/field.


April 4th, 2011
9:14 am

“One of the main reasons our school systems are in such a mess…”

The public schools in East Cobb are very successful.

Fix the community = Fix the school :)

Go Raiders!


April 4th, 2011
9:16 am

Professional sports–in particular the NFL and the NBA need to start a farm system. Athletes who have no interest in education can choose the farm route and those who realize they need an education could opt for a university and agree to remain for a specified period of time.

College athletics gives pro-sports a no-cost farm system and churns out large numbers of woefully under-educated students who have no job skills or training when they fail to make it big in professional sports.

The NCAA is big on talking about student-athletes but does little to support the educational side of athletics. Reform is needed and paying the players is not the best solution. A farm system paid for by professional sports and geared towards those who have no interest in higher education would go a long way in making sure that more emphasis is given to the student than to the athlete.


April 4th, 2011
9:23 am

There are those who go to college to be educated for a specific career path (often changed).

There are those who go to college to follow a sports career path (with or without education).

Those who want to dictate these decisions are control freaks applying personal agendas.

Congrats to FRESHMAN Jeremy Lamb #3 (UCONN) from Norcross High School.

Bruce Waldman

April 4th, 2011
9:25 am

Respectfully I agree with the notion that “the NCAA needs to do a better job of supporting it’s players”. However I disagree with reenacting the Freshman can not play rule. In my opinion the real culprit here is not the NCAA, but rather the NBA. It is the NBA that mandates players coming into their league must be a minimum of 19 years of age. Thus college basketball’s “elite” players have a “One and done” mentality. Sincerely there is a better way for everyone and it begins with the NBA. From this readers view IF the NBA would have the courage to not draft any student-athletes till after their junior year. IF the NCAA would have the courage to pay a small stipend to scholarship student athletes. And finally IF the NCAA would also have the courage to restrict violating coaches from accepting different jobs at another school. I think the combination of these 3 points would (over time) be a win-win. The NBA would get a more seasoned, more mature basketball player. The NCAA would be actually enforcing their member schools to not hire violated coaches after a 1, 2, 3 year absence based on severity. And most importantly the student-athletes IN QUESTION will be getting life long skills to fall back on should they not make the NBA. One thing is for sure. The embodiment of what is “pure” in college basketball is currently threatened by big revenues. So really isn’t money controlling this amateur sport ? Whichever way your opinion would be this is indeed an issue that needs to be resolved.


April 4th, 2011
9:36 am

Particularly in light of the increasing evidence of long-term, lethal medical problems associated with brain injuries from contact sports, it does seem that highly gifted atheletes are casting themselves into college without any real consideration of what effect their college careers will have on their adult lives, whether physical, mental or financial. I know that Div 1 freshman have mandatory training on staying within NCAA guidelines on such matters as taking “gifts” or doing drugs, but I believe it would be valuable to require a course – a real one, not an hour of training – on the issues related to participating in Div 1 athletics. It would include percentages of players getting into the pros, and for how long, the difference between those who graduate from college and those who do not, medical issues as well as studies of what atheletes from their sport and their school are doing five and ten years after they leave the campus. These kids have been rewarded and groomed for their athletic ability throughout high school, and they have little to no understanding of how their world will operate without the athleticism that has defined them to date.

Coaches, on the other hand, do know only too well the likelihood that their students will not be playing for profit beyond their free college education. Since these coaches are faculty, and supposed to be supporting the college’s education mission, I’d say that their ridiculous salaries (and those of their coaching staffs) should be dropped by the percentage of their athletes that fail to graduate in any given year, with a limit of how many years this can continue until their teams are ineligible to play in NCAA-sanctioned events. That way, even if boosters make up the difference, there is a more objective final reckoning.


April 4th, 2011
9:40 am

Bruce, I believe that scholarship athletes DO get a nice stipend already, through the benefits they receive that other scholarship recipients DON”T get. (Housing, training table/meal plan, tutors, study halls, people who intercede for their benefit, first choice of classes, free tuition and fees, travel.) All these things add up to thousands of dollars that the regular scholarship student never sees. Admittedly not all scholarship athletes get all these benefits, but they do get some of them.

And, of course, not all student athletes are poor (achievement-wise or financially) students. But to say they don’t get “paid” is disingenuous, at best.

Inman Park Boy

April 4th, 2011
9:55 am

I’m sorry, but who cares? What are the enrollment percentages even affected by this? Irrelevant to real life. Next issue.

Bruce Waldman

April 4th, 2011
9:57 am

catlady, I think sadly and it is sad that their are “divisions” within the autonomy . The very same elite athlete will get all the things you pointed out as will the “non-elite” scholarship student-athlete get some of them. However, If you ask the NCAA this very question they will tell you that those are requirements, cost of doing business, etc. But IN NO WAY are those “paying” a student-athlete. Yes, We both know and I’m sure agree that the topic is as misleading as most fine print and needs to be fixed.


April 4th, 2011
10:02 am

I believe we should seriously consider Nader’s idea; doing away with scholarships. The system is corrupt, exploits students and detracts from the idea of higher learning. Let the professional leagues set up their own farm systems.


April 4th, 2011
10:05 am

think its a great idea. get the kids in school and on track before the university starts exploiting them


April 4th, 2011
10:13 am

It is a shame to pick on high profile sports with large black male participants. The only reason people are looking at basketball and football is because of the popularity and money it generates. There are many who are making money off these kids. If you are making freshman ineligible, give them a fifth year on their scholarship. I guarantee there are many, many more kids graduating and doing well than those who are not. I’d like to see you go after all who are on scholarships. IF you truly want to limit the abuses in college sports, limit the amount of money the coaches and institutions are allowed to make. Quit singling out the black male athlete.

Arch Dawg

April 4th, 2011
10:19 am

I think it should be mandatory for Arne Buncan, Congress, and the President to get out Educational System, Budget, and Country back in order before they waste one second of their, and our, time dithering on about the NCAA.

Cobb County

April 4th, 2011
10:27 am

if people have no problem with only the basketball and football players sitting out their freshman year then those same people shouldn’t have a problem with only players in those sports getting paid as well.

any new math news?

April 4th, 2011
10:39 am

I would like to know what are the Atlanta Public Schools plans for next year for math. Since the Gov. gave school systems choice on traditional vs. integrated, What is APS’ plan now?

any new math news?

April 4th, 2011
10:39 am

correction, new super not gov.


April 4th, 2011
1:31 pm

What a joke….. these college freshman athletes if you can call them that, barely graduate high-school , their SAT/ACT scores are by the skin of their teeth, most have to transfer to a junior-college to become eligible, or take remedial courses. If they can barely complete high-school, how in the hell do you expect them to do their freshman year? When I was in high-school and college, freshmen couldn’t participate in any athlete sport or activity until the second semester or third quarter. I agree freshman athletes should be ineligible until their gpa is proven worthy . Lastly most student don’t get cuddle like BB and football players. Most students don’t have a mouthpiece or conspirator in their corner, but of course as usual money talks and bulls**t walks.


April 4th, 2011
2:09 pm

Graduation rate of college athletes is higher than the graduation rate for non-athletes … but Duncan wastes time worrying about something he has no control over? And another clueless hack thinks that’s somehow a step in the right direction? And the AJC continues to employ people who believe this is worth bandwidth? Typical absurdity.

Tired of BS

April 4th, 2011
2:32 pm

I would like to see an end to athletic scholarships unless a student can pull a 3.0 or above, period. No “rocks for jocks” classes either. Too many athletes male and female are getting scholarships that bright intelligent students can’t because they are not bred for sports.

BTW when the little rocket scientists leave school to go pro they should have to pay back every dime they have cost that school.

Too much made of athletes.


April 4th, 2011
2:35 pm

This is the type of blog you get when a woman writes about sports. The Freshman has earned their right to play if they are the top athlete at that position. I’m guessing your son did not win his position when he was a freshman…….


April 4th, 2011
2:48 pm

I am a child of the last year of freshman ineligibility and one key point has been left out. Freshman wre ineligible for varsity teams but were not ineligible for freshman teams which take the same amount of time, energy, and dedication to play, not to mention cost underwritten by the college. The lack of return that one respondent mentioned was the lack of revenue earned by the college because freshman sports did not pay their own way. In big time college football, the majority of freshman are “red shirted”. They are eligible to practice but not to play which is not terribly different than what existed under freshman ineligibility. Bottom line is that freshman athletes spent a considerable amount of time on the field then as they do now so what is gained by a return to those days?

William Casey

April 4th, 2011
2:51 pm

I once believed that the NBA was at fault for the “one and done” mess. I now believe it’s the people who are willing to pay big money to watch great athletes who have not yet learned the games. As for freshmen ineligibility, the schools would just reinstate fresmen teams as they had prior to ‘72.

William Casey

April 4th, 2011
2:53 pm

@PJC: your post wasn’t up yet when I typed mine. I, too, am of that era and what you posted is the way it was.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Augusta

April 4th, 2011
2:58 pm

The term “college athletic scholarship” is oxymoronic when its elite athlete-recipient barely qualifies for a high school diploma or for college enrollment under a special admissions program.


April 4th, 2011
3:04 pm

I agree with Sec Duncan if he takes it a step further: make candidates ineligible to hold office if they cannot pass a simple American history and social studies test.


April 4th, 2011
3:07 pm

Did any of you watch Real Sports on HBO this week? The program basically showed the whole amateur collegiate athletic system as a fraud. These kids play AAU ball for runners and the sneaker companies from 10 years old until graduation from high school. They are pushed through school because they can dunk and shoot a jump shot. By the time that they’re 18, it’s too late because they’re already veterans of the entitlement system. They know that Division 1 schools will bend the rules for them academically (when we all know what’s down the road for them once their eligibility is up). The NCAA needs to be overhauled from the ground up because it is a farm system that pimps these kids for free to make money and there is no concern about their futures.


April 4th, 2011
3:11 pm

I agree with one poster…..make them stay in college at least three years before they can bolt for NBA. I would vote the same for baseball too. Way too many baseball players go straight to MLB from high school only to play in minors for years and never make it to bigs and then what? No education.


April 4th, 2011
3:28 pm

My first year of college sucked. I dropped out, worked a few years and when I returned it was all easy again. 20 years later I’m a doctor and believe college sucked a lot because I was out of my comfort zone and policing myself for the first time. Playing a sport, perhaps, may have provided me a coach and staff who would have maintained that practice regimen and my sticking to a routine would possibly have helped me focus. Let them play.


April 4th, 2011
3:33 pm

It’s obvious the NCAA is now a sports entity more than an educational one. Many want to see these players paid at the college level. I recommend having a one time pay out at the time of graduation. You can still qualify for a scholarship but when you receive your diploma you will also get a portion of the profit sharing. This will give the players who don’t have a good chance of making it in the professional ranks incentive to graduate, allow them to grow more mature before getting a lot of money and increase graduation rates.


April 4th, 2011
3:47 pm

@kenlev…. I saw the HBO real Sports also, those college athletes were very frank and non-apologetic in saying that going to college was just an easy way to get to the NFL or NBA even if they flunked out. What’s really sad is that most students who were that cavalier and didn’t graduate would have a hard time struggling in the real world. Secondly alot of the athletes and parents in the piece could care less about the diploma. I guess they really don’t get the concept that injuries happen, and that those injuries could end their sport career. So what do they have to fell back on. We all know that the promoters and agents would run in the other direction if injuries did occur. After all there’s more gullible athletes to be had. The whole situation is tragic and disturbing. Being a washed-up , dropped out college athlete who is injured isn’t something one should be proud of, and we can’t say it doesn’t happen all the time


April 4th, 2011
4:36 pm

Most the these kids are from poor economic backgrounds and a lot of their families have never attended college before, so they don’t have a concept of the value of a college education. All they are concerned about is getting their families to a better financial situation the quickest way possible, and usually that’s through professional sports. The runners and recruiters know that they are preying on these kids, but the NCAA is making billions off of the present system and they will never change it. Michael Adams (UGA President), admitted on HBO that many of the football players at UGA don’t have the backgrounds academically to graduate. If they are in school to only play sports then they are not student athletes. Adams statement is a complete contradiction of the whole amateur concept that the NCAA is using to brain wash the public, while only 33% of his schools football players have graduated in the past 10 years.? Like I said earlier, the whole system is a fraud!!!!!!


April 4th, 2011
5:03 pm

Cut to the chase…’s AA about $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$!!!!!!!!!!!


April 4th, 2011
5:06 pm

I think all athletes should be allowed to go from high school to professional sports. A degree is not necessary in their chosen profession and the colleges make millions off of them and they are not allowed to see a dime. Colleges should be focused on higher education and many athletes would not get in if they weren’t athletically gifted. Should they become injured, then they have to deal with the consequences of that and learn to make it in the world as a high school graduate like other students do all the time.


April 4th, 2011
7:35 pm

I don’t know if this is the answer, but it is a dang good start:

1. Require all athletes to apply and get accepted into the university using the same admissions criteria as every other student who walks through the door.

2. Eliminate the “fluff” programs designed for the sole purpose of warehousing athletes.

It’ pathetic when a program has to hire “class checkers” to ensure 18+ year old ADULTS go to class….

[...] that the reality often falls short of the ideal. I’m very much in favor of reforms like ending freshman eligibility and so on. Yglesias seems far more interested in destroying college athletics than in thinking [...]