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AD Bowlsby Wants Freshmen Prohibited From Interscholastic Play

Last week, NCAA president Mark Emmert held a presidential conference to discuss reforms needed for the NCAA. While the conference resulted in several new policy changes for the NCAA, most notably raising the minimum Academic Progress Rate (APR) requirement, several other policies were not recommended or voted upon.

According to the SF Chronicle, Stanford Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby has a few ideas as to how to change the NCAA, and some of them are mighty controversial.

Among the changes Bowlsby is recommending are:
  • Redshirting/barring incoming freshmen from participating in interscholastic play for all sports
  • Harsher and more timely punishments for failure to follow NCAA rules and requirements
  • Incentives for schools and teams that maintain high APRs and graduation rates
  • Scholarships that meet cost-of-attendance

The last recommendation has been talked about for more than a year now in the media, mostly due to suggestions by Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney and Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott (and occasionally, Mike Slive of the SEC), so it's not really a novel idea. The idea of providing incentives for schools that keep a high APR and/or graduation rate has been around for as long as the APR has been around itself, so that's not really a new idea either; as to what the incentives could be, Bowlsby didn't specify that to the Chronicle.

The two most intriguing suggestions, though, are the first two recommendations listed above. Bowlsby claims that if the minimum APR standards were made a requirement for postseason play, nearly 80 schools would have been ineligible for postseason play, including Men's Basketball champion UConn. It certainly does sting to hear that the best team in the country would be ineligible for a national championship, so you can imagine that there would be some grumblings amongst the NCAA community about enacting such legislation. But how would it be enforced? Since the APRs for individual teams do not come out until early- to mid-May, Bowlsby's recommendation is doubly hurtful for teams with poor APRs and graduation rates as it's assumed he means that teams would be deemed ineligible for postseason play the following year. In essence, teams would be put in the same boat as USC football last season and this coming season -- they know they can't compete for anything well in advance.

Bowlsby's example of why the NCAA needs this rule is interesting in and of itself. He claims that it takes multiple years of non-compliance for schools to finally be hit with scholarship reductions. I don't know about you, but for every school that gets in the news about NCAA violations, it seems that all they get hit with are a slap on the wrist from the NCAA in the form of probation and if we're lucky, a voluntary scholarship reduction. Bowlsby, in effect, is saying to standardize the punishments for schools. While certainly there are varying degrees of non-compliance, there shouldn't be a guessing game when it comes to NCAA punishments, which run the gamut of probation to the infamous "Death Penalty" on nearly every violation.

But perhaps the most novel idea from Bowlsby isn't actually that novel an idea at all. According to the Chronicle, Bowlsby wants to prohibit ALL freshmen from participating in NCAA sports. He claims that doing so would "give them the opportunity for getting established on campus, academically and athletically," but we all know his intent - there are too many freshmen, especially in men's basketball, that have become one-and-dones at member schools. I can only assume that he'd apply this to all sports so as to avoid any Tiger Woods, John McEnroe situations where traditional non-revenue sports athletes leave school for the pro circuit while also actually holding true to his statement that it allows those student-athletes to acclimate to their new environs. Stanford isn't exactly known as a school that is prone to this problem, in part due to more than a few alums looking down their noses at athletes who come to Stanford and don't get their degrees (I'm looking at you, Brook Lopez), so it's curious why the Athletic Director at Stanford is championing a rule that was enforced up until 1968 in almost every sport.

The idea of the freshmen team isn't new to the NCAA. If you look at old media guides from the 1950s and 1960s for any school, you'll notice that there are sections for both Varsity and Freshmen teams. I can only assume that Bowlsby is using the bully pulpit stance of being an athletic director at a prestigious academic institution to make this assertion. It's a no-lose proposition for him: no Stanford fans or alums are going to argue with him, other athletic directors and teams that have fallen victim to this get to thank him without antagonizing their fan base, and the only people he infuriates are probably NBA execs, who never have had the NCAA's best interest in mind anyway.

For football, this really isn't as big an issue as its made out to be. Almost all incoming freshmen on football teams are redshirted anyway. Add to it that the NFL prohibits drafting players until they're at least three years out of high school and Bowlsby's suggestion actually helps some student-athletes. In forcing a freshman redshirt year, unless NFL scouts are extremely confident in the player they're looking at, they're going to want at least three years of intercollegiate play. Coupled with the mandatory freshmen prohibition and you've got football players staying at school to get their degrees for a minimum of four years, ample time for many football players to get their degrees (and yes, that's including the schools where the five-year degree program has become the norm).

For basketball, though, such a rule has significant implications for high school seniors. Does a Senior go to college, minimizing the exposure to NBA scouts for at least another year while they pursue their education for at least two years? Or do they graduate high school and head to Europe and Asia to participate in the international leagues, hoping to get picked up by NBA teams there? For colleges, does this only kick the bucket down an extra year with players leaving after their sophomore year of enrollment as opposed to their freshman year? It's a dicey proposition for all involved, and Bowlsby's recommendation certainly doesn't help clear the fog.

Bowlsby isn't known for making waves publicly in the college athletics community, so these statements from him to the Chronicle are very interesting. It'll be very interesting to see if he presses Emmert and President Hennessy to implement these changes.