### Journal ofPhysical Education and Sport Management

• Abbreviation: J. Phys. Educ. Sport Manag.
• Language: English
• ISSN: 2141-6486
• DOI: 10.5897/JPESM
• Start Year: 2010
• Published Articles: 82

## The 9 credit rule: A look at its impact on academic advising for intercollegiate football athletes

##### Joshua Castle
• Joshua Castle
• Indiana University of Pennsylvania, United States.
##### Robin Ammon
• Robin Ammon
• University of South Dakota, United States.
##### Les Myers
• Les Myers
• University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States.

•  Accepted: 17 October 2014
•  Published: 31 October 2014

ABSTRACT

Key words: Extracurricular activities, human resource management, mixed methods approach, physical education, volunteer.

INTRODUCTION

In 2004, the NCAA introduced a new academic reform called the Academic Performance Program (APP). The genesis of the APP legislation was to ensure that intercollegiate academic institutions were accountable for the graduation of their student athletes. The Academic Progress Rating (APR) was part of the new reorganization instituted by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). It was intended to act as a more accurate way of gauging whether student athletes are making progress in their degrees (Christy et al., 2008). Since its inception in 2004, records indicate the APR rule has been improving graduation rates. In 2007, the APR for all Division I athletics was up three points from the previous year (Hosick, 2008). However, this increase has not been uniform in every sport. Nationally the APR scores for football athletes decreased over several years, which prompted the NCAA to create an additional piece of legislation (Hosick, 2008).

In 2011 the NCAA implemented a 9 Credit Rule which requires football players to earn nine credit hours every fall term or be suspended for the first four games the following fall.

If the student-athlete earns 27 credit hours before the start of the next fall, he can (once in a career) “earn” back all four games. For the remaining seasons, he can earn back two games if he earns the 27 credit hours by the end of summer session (Hosick, 2011). Obviously this rule can impact a coach’s ability to put particular athletes on the field at the beginning of a season. Therefore, it becomes a possibility that some teams and athletic departments may try to circumvent the rule in some fashion.

In 2010 the NCAA negotiated a new TV rights deal for its men’s “March Madness” basketball tournament with Turner Broadcasting and CBS Sports. It is estimated this new $10.8 billion 14-year deal will result in$740 million to NCAA member institutions (Wolverton, 2010).

The continuous expansion and growth of the NCAA’s media rights deals has caused many individuals to focus their attention not only on the conferences and the universities receiving this new income, but also on the athletes making up the rosters of these teams. While the NCAA as well as their conferences enrich themselves with the media contracts, it becomes plausible that the academic pursuits of the athletes may be compromised to keep their institution’s athletic departments competitive.

One area under scrutiny pertains to the academic majors some athletes are guided towards by their academic advisors.

While one major may be of particular interest to an athlete, the rigor of the program may be perceived to be difficult. As a result the advisor encourages that athlete to select another less demanding choice. Sometimes this results in what is termed “clustering”. This situation occurs when numerous athletes are guided to select majors considered to be less academically strenuous than other academic alternatives.

Schneider et al. (2010) stated “Academic clustering is one of the many underlining issues within the debate on college athletics and academics” (pg. 65). However, it is not a new problem. Over 25 years ago, Case et al. (1987) conducted the first study that showed the existence of clustering. After reviewing the media guides of over 100 men’s basketball teams, the researchers found clustering in nearly every sampled university. Their study defined “clustering” as when 25% or more of any team’s roster of major eligible students is enrolled in the same major. Their results of their research also indicated that every clustered major came from non-science based majors.

Fountain and Finley (2009) looked at the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) football teams over a one year period and found every school had at least one clustered major. They also discovered that eight of the eleven schools (73%) had two clustered majors. Schneider et al. (2010) followed a similar method as the previous two studies and examined the media guides for the Big 12 Conference football teams over three different years to determine whether academic major clustering occurred. Their data demonstrated that clustered majors existed at every school. The data gathered from several of the more nationally prominent teams indicated over 50% of the team’s roster were enrolled in the same major.

In 2011 a study conducted by Fountain and Finley (2011) was the first to take a longitudinal look at the problem of academic clustering. The two researchers looked at one major NCAA Division I football team and examined ten years of media guides. They focused on clustering as a process versus a one year snapshot. Their results indicated that clustering occurs over time within the career of an athlete, as the clustered major was often chosen later in the career of the student- athlete. When comparing white and minority student-athletes, the researchers found minority athletes to declare clustered majors earlier in their career, while white athletes often were in other majors before moving to the clustered major. All of these studies (Case et al., 1987, Fountain and Finley, 2011, Schneider et al., 2010) indicate the phenomenon of academic clustering is a reality and one study showed that clustering impacts both minority as well as white football athletes.

The pressure to win impacts coaches and athletic directors in numerous ways. In 1987 a variety of transgressions resulted in Southern Methodist University (SMU) receiving the NCAA’s “death penalty”. More recently stories involving the University of Southern California’s Reggie Bush, multiple athletes from the Ohio State University football program and agents allegedly paying athletes over multiple years have been the focus of various news stories (Staff, 2011). Sometimes, the pressure to win influences individual decisions regarding recruiting the best athletes, regardless of academic aptitude or preparation. The NCAA imposed sanctions against the University of North Carolina in 2012 pertaining to academic improprieties involving multiple football players (Ganim, 2014).

Athletic academic advisors are often placed in no-win situations when working with athletes who are naïve about the effort needed to be successful in  any  college  major, much less for those majors identified with high paying post-collegiate careers. When recruiting athletes, coaches are quick to point towards all of the major choices available and the academic support systems in place to ensure academic success.

For the purposes of this exploratory study, the researchers examined the impact the 9 Credit Rule has on intercollegiate football academic advising strategies. The four research questions analyzed for this study are:

1. Will football academic advisors change the way they advise students due to the “9 Credit rule?

2. Will football academic advisors change the way they advise at-risk collegiate athletes due to the “9 Credit rule?

3. Will football academic advisors change the way they advise in-coming freshmen collegiate athletes due to the “9 Credit rule?

4. Will football academic advisors be more likely to cluster collegiate athletes in less academically stringent majors due to the “9 Credit rule?

These questions were formulated after consulting with several football academic advisors and scholars con-ducting research on intercollegiate athletics.

METHODOLOGY

This current study utilized an online questionnaire. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics. The survey was a modified version of an APR questionaire used in a previous study with Directors of Football Operations (Castle, 2010). The first section of the survey included an explanation of the study, a subsection for obtaining the participant's informed consent, and directions for the survey. The second section gathered information regarding demographic characteristics about the population. The information gathered in the second section included: Age range, gender, level of education, ethnicity, type of college or university in regards to Bowl Championship Series (BCS), non-BCS and/or Historically Black Colleges and Univeristies (HBCUs), and conference affiliation.

All 264 NCAA Division I Football Academic Advisors were directed via e-mail, to a secure data collection site to complete the survey. The Academic Advisor email addresses were solicited via their athletic department websites. The online questionnaire was used to obtain the advisors perceptions and changes of academic advising due to the 9 Credit Rule. After accessing the secure online data collection site (Qualtrics), the respondents were directed to read an introduction and directions about the research study.

RESULTS

Of the 295 subjects, 121 chose to respond to the survey resulting in a 41% response rate. In order to achieve a 95% confidence with a ±7% margin of error 122 subjects needed to respond.  There is no strategy for determining a response rate that involves a specific percentage of a limited population (Suter, 1998). “Low response rates alone do not necessarily suggest sampling bias” (Sax, Gilmartin and Bryant, 2003).

Three quarters of respondents indicated that their age was between 25-44, (76%) N=92. Of the respondents, 102 (89%) had earned a graduate degree, while 19 (11%) had earned a bachelor’s degree. The mean number of years serving as academic advisors was 8.65 years.  At the time the surveys were collected every NCAA Division I conference was represented. Table 1 shows the responses by NCAA Subdivision.

Sixty-six (70%) of the respondents indicated they believed the 9 Credit Rule would not raise their football programs APR score. However, 60 (64%) of the respondents felt this policy would change the way football coaches approach the academics of their collegiate athletes. Respondents felt the 9 Credit Rule would have impacted 6.3 athletes if instituted a year before. Meaning that on average six athletes would have been declared ineligible to participate in the first four games of the next year per program.

Research Question 1: Will football academic advisors change the way they advise students due to the  9  Credit Rule?

The results of Research Question 1 indicated respondents were “slightly more likely” to change the way they advised football players due to the 9 Credit Rule (M= 5.01, SD= 1.43). Of the respondents 55 (57.2%) indicated they were either “slightly more likely”, or “more likely” to change their advising strategy. Twenty-three (23.9%) indicated “no change” in their advising strategy.

Research Question 2: Will football academic advisors change the way they advise at-risk collegiate athletes due to the 9 Credit Rule?

When asked if academic advisors will change the way they advise at-risk football players due to the 9 Credit Rule, the advisors were “slightly more likely” to change (M= 5.71, SD= 1.51). Thirty-two (33%) of the respondents indicated they were “more likely” and 34 (35.3%) were “extremely more likely” to change their advising. Only 10 (10.4%) of respondents indicated they would “not change” the way they advise at-risk football players.

Research Question 3: Will football academic advisors change the way they advise in-coming freshmen collegiate athletes due to the 9 Credit Rule?

The results from Research Question 3 indicated the respondents were “slightly more likely” to change the way they advised incoming freshmen football players due to the 9 Credit Rule (M= 5.31, SD= 1.6). Twenty-seven (28.7%) indicated they would be “extremely more likely” to change their freshmen advising, 21 (22.3%) would be “slightly more likely”, 20 (21.2%) felt they would be “more likely” while 18 (19.1%) believed it would “not change” the way they advise incoming freshmen athletes.

When asked if advisers would be “more likely” to use elective courses earlier in students’ careers 21 (22.8%) respondents indicated they would not change their advising strategy due to the 9 Credit Rule (M= 4.79, SD= 1.69).  However while the mean was much lower and 24 (26%) supported no change the advisors indicated they were “more likely” to change. When combining the “slightly more likely”, “more likely” and “extremely more likely” responses, and 53 (57.6%) indicated some type of change in advising freshmen football players with the use of electives due to the 9 Credit Rule.

Research Question 4: Will football academic advisors be more likely to cluster collegiate athletes in less academically stringent majors due to the 9 Credit Rule?

Responses from the fourth research question indicated advisers were “slightly more likely” to cluster students in less academically stringent majors due to the 9 Credit Rule (M= 5.04, SD= 1.6). However, 27 (30%) of the respondents indicated they were not going to change the way they placed students into majors. “Slightly more likely”, “more likely”, and “extremely more likely” accounted for 54 (60%) of the responses. Finally, 21 (23.3%) indicated they were “extremely more likely” to cluster students in less academically stringent majors (Table 2).

Open ended responses

When analyzing the open-ended responses football academic advisers indicated one way they planned to change their advising strategy was by increasing the monitoring of their athletes. Of the respondents that answered the open-ended follow-up question 25 (40.2%) stated they were going to increase the monitoring of their students. This included increases in weekly grade reports, increases in communication with professors, increases in degree planning, increases in study hall/ tutoring hours, and increases in class attendance monitoring.

In order for athletes to be eligible for NCAA competition, they must be enrolled full-time at the institution. Typically, this equates to a minimum of twelve credits. Some advisors would only place them in the minimum in order for the athlete to focus on a small amount of course work during the season. Thirteen (21.8%) of the respondents stated they were going to change their advising strategy by ensuring students were enrolled in at least 15 h of course work, with 3-6 h of electives. Several also mentioned they would be less likely to allow a student to drop a course. Academic advisors might be thinking that passing the course with a D would be more beneficial to eligibility regarding the 9 Credit Rule than the decline in an individual’s grade point average.

Additionally, 8 (13.1%) of the academic advisors indicated they would advise students to take “less stringent” courses in fall. Some also indicated they would be less likely to use Pass/Fail Option. Others, 3 (4.9%) stated they would stagger the use of electives as a sort of “Insurance.”

Twenty-six (42.6%) of the surveyed academic advisors believed requiring athletes to select a major earlier, increasing progress reports and monitoring, providing additional planning with freshmen, requiring freshmen to enroll in an academic learning strategies class, and implementing policies to identify at-risk students earlier in their academic careers were strategies they planned to change for incoming freshmen. Only 7 (11.4%) of the respondents addressed the issue of clustering. All seven indicated the APR would have a negative impact on students and would force students into specific majors. Some of their statements included: “I believe the APR is working and a rule like this will only force students away from majors they are truly interested in.”  Another respondent stated, “Finally, I will have no choice but to allow our at risk players to only pursue certain degrees.” One of the more interesting responses was:

I doubt this rule will have any effect other than promote clustering and football student-athletes taking less academic chances in the fall term. Students who come up short in the fall will then take even less chances in the next term(s) in order to regain their eligibility--further ensuring a growth in clustering/less academically demanding majors.

As previously mentioned the clustering students into specific majors could force student athletes to pursue majors not of their choosing. One respondent was quoted as stating, “I fear that this rule will unintentionally penalize student-athletes who would otherwise have a solid chance of completing a degree but must ‘settle’ for an alternative for fear of jeopardizing their future eligibility.”

Other changes

Five (8.1%) of the respondents commented on the need to emphasize the new rules to both athletes and coaches. One respondent indicated:

We have been talking about it all summer and making sure the awareness is there. There is a huge colored sign hanging at the front door of the football building that they see every day.  We have worked with the coaches to remind the guys all the time that they have to focus on their academics.

DISCUSSION

The academic reform measures NCAA leaders have approved recently have been held up as evidence that the NCAA takes education seriously. Higher minimum grade point averages, Academic Progress Rates, and stiffer penalties for teams that do not meet the academic progress benchmark back up the claim that players are, as NCAA President Mark Emmert puts it, "students who happen to be athletes," not the other way around. Unsurprisingly, faculty and some other officials have been more critical. At the annual NCAA convention in January 2012, some speculated the measures may lead to higher graduation rates, but only because athletes will be driven to take easier classes or succumb to academic fraud (Grasgreen, 2012).

The 9 Credit Rule has the potential to further divide the competing values that academic advisers face in their jobs. The recent educational goals of the NCAA have been to raise academic standards and if APRs are raised, more students graduate faster, and more students graduating equals academic success (Grasgreen, 2012). An interesting query becomes will the new 9 Credit Rule accomplish this goal and will there be any unintended consequences? The rule is in line with other recent measures requiring athletes to spread out their credit hours for more consistent academic progress, rather than take just a few hours during the season and have trouble  fitting everything else in during the spring and summer semesters (Grasgreen, 2012).

Some athletic advisors believe “clustering” may become more prominent due to the APR. One respondent stated:

Our unit does not advise based on how to keep students eligible, which this legislation is encouraging. We will continue to encourage students to excel in the classroom; however, more emphasis will now have to be placed on eligibility, as opposed to academic excellence. We can now, officially, be classified as "eligibility brokers" instead of "academic advisors." In the best of worlds, the NCAA would have changed the initial eligibility standards so students who enter college are actually prepared to do college work.

Action by the NCAA to change initial eligibility standards is on the horizon. In 2016 incoming freshmen will need a 2.3 grade point average (GPA) in high school, which is up from the current 2.0 GPA. Before their senior year they will also need to have completed 10 of the required 16 core courses, and complete all 16 within four years (Sherman, 2012).

The second unintended consequence of this legislation has to deal with the increase in monitoring due to the 9 Credit Rule. With increased monitoring there is a risk of alienating professors. One of the ways academic advisors indicated they were going to increase monitoring athletes was by increasing communication with professors either through grade reports or attendance checks. Will this increase be seen as harassment? Or will professors see this as an extra burden?

Another unintended consequence is the possibility of a further divide between the “have and have-nots” among college football programs and athletic programs. Despite "more monitoring" being the most common measure advisers expect to take to help students meet this new legislation, 78% indicated they do not expect to receive more money or resources for it. With more monitoring comes more expense. Some respondents agreed stating “the 9 Credit Rule will have the biggest impact on institutions that do not have the resources to provide the level of academic support collegiate athletes are receiving at BCS institutions", and another respondent commented "Once again widening the gap in another area between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots’”.

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

After reviewing the result there is clear need for future research in this area. In particular the NCAA needs to analyze the data to see if the 9 Credit Rule truly meets its intended outcomes. In order for this to occur the unintended outcomes need to be identified and additional research needs to investigate the impact of the 9 Credit Rule on these outcomes. The NCAA needs to monitor the academic clustering of athletes and look to see if the 9 Credit Rule advances the use of clustering. In order to help prevent the types of problems found in this study, athletic programs need to add resources for academic advisors due to the anticipated increases in monitoring they will be required to do. Finally, the NCAA must initiate more effective initial eligibility standards.

CONFLICT OF INTERESTS

The authors have not declared any conflict of interests.

REFERENCES