Published July 3, 2012 - 8:06am
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Florida Coach Will Muschamp lost a four-star recruit recently when the university’s admissions department denied admission to former Venice High School defensive tackle Dante Phillips. According to the Gainesville Sun, Phillps’s stepfather said, “He’s been cleared by the NCAA…But the admissions office says he can’t enroll at Florida.” Phillips indicated he would like to attend another SEC school.
Legal restrictions prevent Florida from discussing the specific reasons for denying Phillips’s admission. Phillips’s stepfather claimed his stepson would be eligible at any other college and that he’s already met NCAA requirements. However, the NCAA only sets a floor for eligibility requirements; each school determines its own admissions standards above and beyond the NCAA minimums.
The Indianapolis-based NCAA Eligibility Center—commonly known as the “NCAA Clearinghouse”—certifies the academic and amateur credentials of all students who wish to compete in Division I or Division II athletics. (Division III, which awards no athletic scholarships, does not have any division-wide eligibility rules.) Under current NCAA rules, an incoming freshman must be a high school graduate who completed 16 core courses (4 years of English, 3 years of math, 2 years of science, etc.) within four consecutive academic years. The student’s combined grade-point average and standardized test scores are then reviewed based on a sliding scale. For example, if the student has a high school GPA of 2.4, he must also earn a combined 860 on the SAT to be eligible for athletic competition as a freshman. A higher GPA would mean a lower minimum standardized test score, and vice-versa.
According to U.S. News & World Report’s annual college rankings, Florida has an admissions acceptance rate of just over 43%. It is a selective school that sets higher eligibility requirements than the NCAA Clearinghouse. While the NCAA only requires 16 core courses for freshman eligibility, Florida admissions requires 18, including one additional year in math and science and two years in a foreign language.
Florida also requires minimum scores of 460 on the SAT’s reading and mathematics tests, as well as 440 on the writing test. The NCAA Clearinghouse only looks at the reading and the mathematics components of the SAT. By the NCAA’s sliding scale, Florida’s minimum requirement of 920 combined on those two SAT components matches to a 2.25 high school GPA.
While the SEC does not directly regulate admissions decisions by member schools, the conference’s bylaws direct an institution to file a “special report” with the commissioner’s office if there certain irregularities exist; for example, if the “prospective student-athlete” withdraws from high school during his senior year or completes courses through “nontraditional means.” In such cases, Commissioner Mike Slive can review the school’s special report and determine on his own accord the student is ineligible.
The NCAA’s eligibility rules will also get stricter starting in August 2016. At that time, the NCAA Clearinghouse will add a separate category for students who may receive an athletic scholarship but not compete during his freshman year. The sliding scale will change to impose a higher minimum GPA for competition eligibility. That means that while a 2.4 GPA and 860 combined SAT score meets current eligibility requirements, in 2016 a student with that same SAT score must now have a 2.85 GPA if he wishes to compete as a freshman. He can still receive a scholarship and practice with the team during his first semester, but he cannot play at all during his freshman year and “must be academically successful” in his first college semester to continue practicing.
The post-2016 rules also tighten high school coursework requirements before a player can be eligible to play in his freshman year of college. While the number of courses (16) and subject distributions will not change, the new rules do specify at least 10 of the 16 required courses must be completed by the end of the first semester of the student’s senior year of high school. Students must earn at least a 2.3 GPA in these 10 courses and may not repeat any coursework after that first semester of senior year. Again, these new rules apply to students who wish to compete right away in college. To practice and receive a scholarship, the pre-2016 rules will remain in place.
Again, it’s important to distinguish between NCAA minimum eligibility rules and the admissions policies of individual schools like Florida. Coaches may offer scholarships, but the admissions process is run separately from the athletics department (at least in theory). There is generally no “appeals process” when a student is denied admission, since it is not a disciplinary action but rather a discretionary act of the admissions director. That said, a player like Phillips, assuming he was cleared by the NCAA, can enroll and play right away at any other school, assuming he meets that institution’s admissions requirements.