Maryland's student newspaper The Diamondback has reported that the Big Ten is preparing to introduce a proposal that would rule all freshmen ineligible for football and men's basketball. The proposal stems from the desire the increase the academic standing for freshmen in both sports, which are the only NCAA sports with a less than 75% graduation rate, according to documents obtained by The Diamondback. There are many ways to fix the mindless stupidity of the current NCAA system, but this for sure isn't one of them.
True freshmen were not eligible to play in all sports up until 1972, with the decision to scratch that ruling motivated obviously by what still motivates football and men's basketball at Power 5 schools: money. With the current momentum to change the NCAA, reform proposals like this would naturally arrive for discussion, but outright preventing freshmen from playing the 2 biggest college sports makes about as much sense as denying student-athletes stipends to pay for their basic needs.
It's cutting off the nose of B1G athletic programs in spite of their face. Putting the big 2 sports ahead of academics seems short sighted in the mind of academics, but consider what those programs are designed for. As state funding for higher education continues to be cut across the country, the big revenue drivers for these schools isn't fundraising methods or begging wealthy alumni to donate giant sums of cash to build new buildings on campus, it's sports. Particularly, it's football and men's basketball. Alabama's football program generated a $53.3 surplus and revenues of nearly $100 million. Sure that's an extreme example, but consider the television contracts conferences sign that bring in ungodly amounts of money to the member institutions. Specifically, look deep into your mind's eye for a moment and ask yourself how much money the B1G's new TV contract will be for when it kicks in in 2018? Billions. With a B. And this proposal would directly shunt that money, money which could be critical in keeping not only athletic departments afloat, but give the institutions themselves the cache they desperately need.
Even if some football and men's basketball players have delusions of grandeur expecting the pro game to be calling their name after their time at Maryland, or Rutgers or Iowa, the best players are not going to come to these schools, whether they are going for the academics or not, if they cannot play in Year 1. The B1G is certainly not going to do this on their own, since administering this without the other 4 Power 5 conferences on board basically ensures the continual lapping of them by ACC, SEC, Big 12 and Pac 12 schools.
Many freshmen do not make immediate impacts in football or men's basketball (don't tell that to Kentucky or Duke though), but that doesn't mean that barring them from playing due to the idea that their academic performances are somehow intertwined with playing is absurd. The transition from high school to college is incredibly difficult if you're doing absolutely nothing extra-curricular, let alone playing a sport. There are far easier ways to go about the issue of academic performance of athletes AND eliminate college basketball's silly one-and-done rule at once.
How about getting rid of redshirts? And while they're at it, how about the NCAA increases the basic eligibility floor to 5 years instead of 4? Then, athletes will have the chance to graduate early if they so wish to, but will have an extra buffer year into their time at a university to complete their studies while fulfilling their academic duties at the same time. These players would have incentives to stay longer, making not only the product better for the fans but increasing the players academic standing at the same time.
Nothing will change without help from above, though. The NBA and NFL need to change their rules as well, in order to discourage leaving school early or only going to school because you need to in order to reach the pros. Whether that's changing the NBA age limit, allowing kids to jump straight from high school to the NBA again, or in the NFL's case trying to lower the amount of kids that leave after 3 years that might not have legitimate pro aspirations.
This memo does get one thing right: The conferences are acknowledging that there is a problem with the current NCAA structure. But banning freshman from playing the 2 biggest NCAA sports doesn't fix the biggest issue, it just makes it far worse.
It seemed inconceivable that the NCAA could make their ridiculous system any worse. This just might.
Original Diamondback article can be found here.