Chandler High School starts classes on Monday.
Before then, all of the senior football players met with an NCAA liaison for what was their most important session of the year.
They found out where they stood academically, what they needed to do to assure they are immediately eligible for Division I college football next year.
This is a huge year in more ways than one for the class of 2016.
Those athletes will have to meet new NCAA Division I academic standards in order to play. Instead of a 2.0 core grade-point average, they must have a 2.3 GPA. They need to have completed 10 of their 16 core courses before their senior year, with seven of those coming in English, math and science.
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They also have to make sure they meet increased college entrance test score requirements. NCAA.com lays out the details. For example, it states, an SAT score of 1,000 requires a 2.5 high school core-course GPA for competition, and a 2.0 high school core-course GPA to receive aid and practice.
This new reality has been out there since 2012, when the NCAA Division I Board of Directors voted to allow time for high school athletes to get acclimated with the changes.
Chandler coach Shaun Aguano said his star players, senior running back Chase Lucas and wide receiver N’Keal Harry – rated as the No.1 Dynamic Duo in the state by azcentral sports – are above the academic requirements. They have the necessary GPA and test scores, Aguano said.
They better be, because they have a long line of major college football suitors.
“If they keep their grades up pretty good, they’ll be fine,” Aguano said.
Lucas, who has an offer from Notre Dame among many, feels confident. He has known what was required of him since he started high school in 2012.
“Coach Aguano has always told me that the requirement was a 2.3 core, so I’m doing good with it,” Lucas said.
The Arizona Interscholastic Association, the state’s governing body for high school athletics, doesn’t have a minimum required GPA in order to participate in sports.
“It’s state law that says it’s not specific,” said David Hines, AIA assistant executive director. “It’s up to each individual district to determine the no-pass, no-play policy to have in place.”
In 2012, when the NCAA started to eventually increase the academic requirement for eligibility out of high school to above a C average, the Scottsdale Unified School District voted to require a 2.0 GPA and no F’s in order for students to compete in sports.
At the time, only Scottsdale and Gilbert, among the state’s large school districts, required a 2.0 GPA minimum in order to play.
Bill Counce, whose son, Chris, played football at Saguaro and is on his way to playing at South Dakota School of Mines, said he was excited to see the Scottsdale district set a required GPA that also included extra study sessions for kids to improve their grades.
Counce works for Student-Athlete Showcase, which tries to find colleges for high school athletes. He said for most of the kids he talks to, grades aren’t an issue.
Counce believes the NCAA requirement of having 10 of the 16 core courses completed before their senior year could trip up athletes more than the GPA increase.
“What the kids need to understand is the academic process,” Counce said. “If they’re waiting until the last semester to pack them in, they won’t qualify. I think that will catch more kids than the GPA.
“The NCAA did that on purpose. Colleges don’t want to waste a spot that they could have given to someone else. Now they can find out before Signing Day if they’re a qualifier.”
The Phoenix Union High School District in the past did a weekly progress report to determine eligibility. Now, it is going to three weeks.
Laveen Cesar Chavez football coach Jim Rattay, who has seen many a talented athlete waste an athletic career by not measuring up in the classroom, said he doesn’t know enough about the three-week grading policy. But he said he liked the weekly reports because athletes could earn their way back on the team quicker.
“A lot of times, the sport is what is bringing them to school,” said Rattay, who has won seven state championships in his 40-year coaching career. “If you take that away from them, then they’re not showing up for practice, and you might lose them.”
Good study habits begin at home. And in grade school.
Kevin Skaff, whose son, Taylor, is a junior offensive lineman at Cesar Chavez, felt his son got a head start on knowing what is expected of the athlete entering college as far back as seventh grade at Champions, a charter school. Junior Taylor, a former UCLA football player, was principal and had athletes do essays on colleges that interested them.
“It’s about what kind of education do they get, what they have to do to get there,” Skaff said. “It’s not just about what their colors and mascot are. He installed it in them to learn more about the college.”
Taylor Skaff maintains a 4.0 GPA. But it came after a scare. His father threatened to take him off the football field in the seventh grade when he was slipping in a class to a B that was close to turning into a C (2.0).
“He learned then if he makes a C, he’s off the team,” Kevin Skaff said. “You could see how important sports was to him.”
Now Taylor Skaff helps tutor teammates to make sure they’re above C standards.
“My freshman year I messed up a lot, but I got my grades up to at least a 3.0,” said Cesar Chavez senior running back Pavone Myers, who has visions of playing Division I college football. “I’ve been going to night school to make it up and try to get above a 3.5.”
Cesar Chavez senior lineman Greg Tapia said he has never failed a course, looking at his teammates as motivation.
“I don’t want to let them down,” he said.
Many high school athletes dream about playing in college, but they don’t realize until it’s too late what is necessary in the classroom to play.
“Parents can help their student-athlete by making academics a family priority,” said Lisa Holt, whose son, Justin, is a top senior defensive lineman at Tucson Salpointe Catholic and a University of Arizona commit. “Check your student’s grades and contact teachers if needed. Know what your student’s grades and GPA are.
“A 2.3 GPA is just above a C average. How can a student-athlete believe they shouldn’t put as much effort in the classroom as they do on the field?”
Counce is curious to see what Division I sports look like in the next couple of years with the new academic standards in place.
“My son tells me he believes it will affect the quality of play for a couple of years until everyone figures it out,” he said. “Some of the most talented players are on the borderline academically, top kids in the state. They could end up at a JC or NAIA or end up not getting to play or practice their first year. Those are the things I see happening.”
Along with being the boys basketball coach, Samuel Dentz is the drop-out prevention coordinator and NCAA eligibility representative at Tempe McClintock High. He said his current seniors have been operating out of the NCAA standards for a while now.
“We do have a few 2016 student-athletes who have found themselves scrambling to make credits up or improve their core GPA, going through summer school in order to reach the new standard set by the NCAA,” Dentz said. “It’s not more out of the ordinary than what we have had for previous graduating classes. There are always going to be those fringe kids.
“In my opinion, the standards are realistic and obtainable. They have to remember that they are students first and the athletic aspect is a separate component. You can’t live without the other. We always tell our kids that there is no sliding scale based upon your abilities as an athlete. You could be the greatest player out there, but if your grades don’t meet what is required, you cannot play at the next level.”
Dentz says the key is taking advantage of the schools’ available resources and through the NCAA eligibility center. They will let them know where the bar is set and what they need to do to reach it.
Is is too late for many seniors now? Can they catch up?
Scott Williams, president of the Phoenix Chapter of the National Alliance of African American athletes, says he believes a lot of high school athletes aren’t being told what is required in the classroom until it is too late.
“For many, it is going to be too late,” Williams said. “There will be a lot of guys that could play D-I but now they will be playing JC, D-II or D-III ball. This could alter a student-athlete’s chances of going pro greatly.
“There is going to be a lot of crying around the country from kids who wish they would have applied themselves. All of these athletes need to realize that one day their athletic career will be over – usually sooner than they think.
“They will one day need that degree or diploma when they enter back into the real world. Even if you are one of the 1 percent to make it from high school to the pros in any sport, you are going to run out of money.”
NEW ACADEMIC ELIGIBILITY RULES
In 2012, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors voted to allow high school student-athletes time to get acclimated to the new academic requirements for athletic eligibility. Those freshmen are now incoming seniors. The requirements take effect with the 2016 class:
–For immediate access to competition, prospective student-athletes must achieve at least a 2.3 GPA and an increased sliding scale. For example, an SAT score of 1,000 requires a 2.5 high school core-course GPA for competition and a 2.0 high school core-course GPA for aid and practice.
–Prospects also must successfully complete 10 of the 16 total required core courses before the start of their senior year in high school. Seven of the 10 courses must be successfully completed in English, math and science.
NCAA Division I-required 16 core courses:
–4 years of English
–3 years of mathematics (Algebra 1 or higher).
–2 years of natural/physical sciences (1 year of lab if offered by the high school).
–2 years of social science.
–1 year of additional English, mathematics or natural/physical science.
–4 years of additional courses (from any above area, foreign language or comparative religion/philosophy.