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December 9, 2008

Compliance corner focuses on initial eligibility

By: Jimmy Robertson

Working in the compliance office at any major university requires that one possess a deep knowledge of the NCAA’s intricate web of rules and processes, and then be willing to remain abreast of all the topics on a daily basis.

After all, change is constant with the NCAA, and Tech’s compliance team monitors the changes continuously. One of the biggest changes that came about a couple of years ago centers on initial eligibility – something that affects all high school prospects in every sport.

For high school prospects who enrolled at Division-I schools in August, NCAA officials started requiring that these prospects graduate from high school with 16 core courses – up from 14. The NCAA is now requiring an additional math credit (now three credits at or above Algebra I instead of two) and an additional credit in either English, math, natural or physical science, social science, foreign language, philosophy or religion.

“The NCAA wants to ensure a prospect’s preparedness for college,” said Bert Locklin, Tech’s assistant director of compliance and the main person who oversees initial eligibility for Tech. “Without question, this change makes it more difficult for a high school prospect to qualify. Our coaches are aware of this change, so we’ve all taken it upon ourselves to educate the prospects, the high school coaches and the guidance counselors at high schools about this change. Our goal is to make sure a high school prospect is enrolled in the proper classes early enough so that he or she can meet this requirement.”

Tech’s compliance staff put together a one-page flyer that highlights the steps needed for high school prospects to become eligible. First, they must register with the NCAA Eligibility Center (formerly known as the NCAA Clearinghouse) and pay a $60 registration fee ($85 for international students). Then, they need to send their transcripts to the Eligibility Center by the end of their junior year – official transcripts from ALL high schools attended, too. Finally, they need to take the SAT or the ACT (aptitude tests) and those scores can only be sent to the Eligibility Center by the appropriate testing agency.

“One good thing is that prospects can check on their status [as a qualifier] at any time through the NCAA’s Web site once they register,” Locklin said. “We strongly encourage high school prospects to get their paperwork done early and to check their status regularly. We also want them to make sure they send their most up-to-date transcripts after graduation. The NCAA gets flooded with paperwork, so it’s best to get everything in early.”

Prospects also need to keep in mind the NCAA’s sliding scale related to grade-point average in the core courses and SAT and ACT scores because this relates directly toward eligibility. The higher a prospect’s grade-point average, then the lower his SAT or ACT score can be to qualify.

For example, if a prospect graduates with a 3.55 or better in the 16 core courses, he or she would only need to score 400 on the SAT or 37 on the ACT. In contrast, if a prospect graduates with a 2.2, he or she would need to score 940 on the SAT or 79 on the ACT.

“There are two keys here,” Locklin said. “First, the NCAA calculates the grade-point average for the core courses only – not on every class a prospect takes in high school. Second, the NCAA only takes into account the prospect’s best verbal and math portions of the SAT. The SAT has a writing section, but the NCAA does not take that score into consideration.”

Initial eligibility is a complicated process for everyone involved – prospects, parents, high school coaches, guidance counselors, college coaches and compliance officers. The key is for everyone to get involved early in the game.

“Absolutely,” Locklin said. “If you’re a high school coach and you have a freshman or sophomore whom you think could be a Division I athlete, or if you’re a parent and think that same thing, then please take the initiative to check with your high school guidance counselor on those core courses. If you have questions, please contact someone in compliance or a coach or someone at the NCAA (the NCAA has a toll free number – 877-622-2321).

“The last thing you want to do if you’re a prospect is to wait and check on this your senior year. Then you may not have enough core courses – and after that, your options are limited.”