NCAA Revises Analysis of High School Courses

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In response to criticisms and confusion about the way it determines athletic eligibility, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has revamped its system for evaluating high school courses.

The revised procedure, called "A New Game Plan," aims to simplify the requirements placed on high schools in submitting course descriptions to the Overland Park, Kan.-based organization. The NCAA's Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse decides which high school courses can count toward an incoming freshman's eligibility to compete in college sports.

But the NCAA's efforts have not won over some of its critics in precollegiate education, who contend that the membership organization of colleges and universities has no business evaluating high school curricula in the first place.

The NCAA's "heart was in the right place" for demanding academic rigor for its athletes, said Terry Downen, the principal of the 1,640-student North High School in Eau Claire, Wis. "But to require us to submit for every new course a document that has 16 questions and certifies [its] rigor is not something I care to spend time on, or that I care to have my staff spend time on," Mr. Downen said.

"The whole question is whether they're able to demand legitimately from high schools this kind of information."

Mr. Downen also said that the NCAA's course-approval process does not appear to be logical. The association accepted an English course that his high school offers, he said, but turned down the exact same course that another high school in Eau Claire teaches.

Kathryn M. Reith, a spokeswoman for the NCAA, said last week that high schools, at least so far, appear to have responded positively to the new process.

"We certainly don't expect [the critics] to receive a nice package and say, 'The NCAA has changed,' " she said. "But what that package does represent is that a lot of thought has gone into the process."

Public Relations Tool?

The NCAA's Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse came under intense scrutiny last fall with several well-publicized cases of high academic achievers' being denied athletic eligibility.

In most of those cases, a nontraditional high school course failed to meet the clearinghouse's standards, which then resulted in the student's being shy of credits needed to qualify for competition. ("Student Coursework Runs Afoul of NCAA's Rules on Eligibility," Oct. 16, 1996.)

The "New Game Plan," sent in February to more than 25,000 high school counselors, sets a timetable by which high schools must submit descriptions for any new or not previously approved courses, and provides course-submission forms for several subject areas.

Under the old system, if the clearinghouse did not approve a course, the high school had to find an NCAA member college or university to appeal on its behalf before the association's academic-requirements committee.

Now, the courses that the clearinghouse does not approve will be sent automatically to the committee for additional review. Once the committee rules on whether a course qualifies as a required "core course," the NCAA will not allow any other appeal.

"We're trying to get everybody into the mind-set of, let's take care of this now, and not wait until there is a problem," Ms. Reith said.

But Joe Nathan, the director of the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota, which helps teams of parents and educators transform public schools, said that he felt the whole process was "ludicrous."

"First of all, this is an astonishing waste of high schools' time; also, they are placing enormous barriers in the way of high schools that are trying to do good things for students," said Mr. Nathan, whose office has come to serve as a de facto clearinghouse for parents and students stymied by the NCAA rules.

Jon Larson, a counselor at La Crescent High School in La Crescent, Minn., said that educators, not the NCAA, should be judging whether a course can be considered college preparatory.

"That packet is just a public relations tool by the NCAA, just to make things go more smoothly, but the real issue is beneath that," said Mr. Larson, who is also the president of the Minnesota School Counselors Association.

Both Mr. Larson's association and the Minnesota state board of education adopted resolutions last month opposing the NCAA's policy and practices in "establishing appropriate standards for postsecondary athletic-scholarship eligibility."

High schools that have not received ''New Game Plan'' packets can call the clearinghouse at (319) 337-1492.

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