Report: Big Ten open to explore hoops, football freshman ineligibility

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Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. (USATSI)

Maryland’s student newspaper, The Diamondback, is reporting it has obtained documents that show the Big Ten is on board with the notion of reverting back to freshman ineligibility for scholarship athletes.

It’s a philosophy that’s decades old; the NCAA lifted its ban on freshman playing sanctioned sports in 1972. Last week, CBSSports.com’s Jon Solomon broke the story that Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was leading a charge, supported by other commissioners in college athletics, of adopting the ancient practice.

It’s an ideology many believe has rightfully been off the table for more than 40 years because it’s not practical or ideal for college programs to sit 17- and 18-year-olds who have the talent and ability to contribute to their schools immediately.

According to the docs the The Diamondback obtained, the Big Ten is in the early stages of starting/contributing to a “national discussion” over the practicality and likelihood that this previously universal practice could one day again take hold.

Football and men’s basketball would be the primary sports affected and most hotly debated.

“What I like about the concept of the proposal is it puts right up front the basic issue: Are we basically a quasi-professional activity or primarily an educational activity?” university President Wallace Loh said. “And if you support it, you are basically saying very clearly the No. 1 priority is the education of the students.”

The University Athletic Council is meeting this afternoon to discuss a proposal the Big Ten is titling “A Year of Readiness,” which equates to a mandatory redshirt season to examine “the health of the educational experience.”

… The document, which shows football and men’s basketball as the only sports with graduation rates less than 75 percent across the NCAA, states that a push for freshman ineligibility would benefit athletes academically. Men’s basketball and football players lag behind other sports in terms of academics, according to data provided in the document. … The proposal examines “the imbalance observed in those two sports” and cites that football and men’s basketball student-athletes account for less than 19 percent of Division I participants, yet they account for more than 80 percent of academic infraction cases. It also suggests applying current academic eligibility standards for freshman student-athletes to sophomores if the “Year of Readiness” is approved.

College football rarely has freshmen make massive impact in the way college basketball has. The NBA and its Players Association instituted a rule in 2006 that prevented high school players from immediately declaring for the draft. As it stands, a player must be 19 years old or one year removed from his high school graduation in order to qualify to be drafted by an NBA team.

This has led to a boom in first-year players dominating at the college level. Jahlil Okafor, Jabari Parker, John Wall, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Anthony Davis and Derrick Rose stood out in recent seasons.

But even before the NBA’s rule, players like Michigan’s Fab Five, Carmelo Anthony, Pervis Ellison, Shaquille O’Neal, Wayman Tisdale, Chris Jackson, Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson excelled as freshmen.

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