As Abilene Christian transitions into Division I, new academic standards and regulations on athletic scholarships will have a huge impact on the department and how they will recruit going forward.
Jared Mosley, director of athletics for the university, addressed how academic standards will serve as accountability at the next level.
“One of the ways that it’s different in Division I is that almost every sport has a higher expectation than what Division II has for our student athletes,” Mosley said.
“There’s a greater expectation on the front end, and there’s a lot more publicity at the Division I level because it’s really the accountability mechanism. It will definitely be a different opportunity.”
ACU is now subject to the academic progress rate, or APR, used across the board in Division I to keep schools responsible for maintaining their players’ eligibility. Failure to meet these standards may result in sanctions such as loss of scholarships and reduced practice times.
Head football coach Ken Collums does not seem worried about his players maintaining their grades.
“That just becomes part of their life. You have to meet a certain percentage towards your major to even be eligible to play. Now all you have to do is pass 12 hours,” Collums said. “Mainly, it is just more rigorous as far as recruiting and transfers are concerned.”
In order to come to ACU and be eligible for athletics, transfers must now earn an associate’s degree from the school they are coming from. They also must have a certain number of hours in certain subjects.
Collums believes ACU will focus on more than just the athletic talent of their recruits.
“We’re really going to have to hand-pick our players even more than we already do because here at ACU, I want the right heart anyway,” Collums said. “We throw a huge net and then narrow it down. It comes down to academics, the ability, and the guy’s heart. There definitely will be a different set of circumstances as far as academics, and getting people here.”
The way the department handles athletics scholarships will also change. Division II schools such as ACU have the ability to break up scholarships in as many ways as they want and distribute them to whomever they like. However, Division I comes with an entirely new set of rules and regulations on scholarships.
“In sports like football you may have 63 scholarships but you can only give it to 85 people,” Collums said. “You really can’t just divvy them up the same way that we do in Division II.”
Not all changes at the next level will be difficult for athletes. Mosley is looking forward to the increase in funding and more scholarship opportunity.
“If we look at anticipated scholarship growth and expense it’s hard to project exactly what that will be. We kind of have a plan in place that we will use to navigate,” Mosley said.
“We will be growing in a part of our adding of revenue that we will be bringing in towards enhancing our scholarships offerings at the Division I level.”
Along with an increased revenue, Collums is hopeful that the new scholarship regulations will work well with the university’s recently adopted block tuition.
“The block tuition is awesome for academics, you can’t get any better than that. You can get in and get out and graduate, but as far as athletic scholarships in a Division II school are concerned, it’s not the best setup.”
Last fall Dr. Phil Schubert, president of the university, announced that Abilene Christian would begin block tuition the following year.
Under the new plan, students can take 24-36 hours per year for one price, including other general fees. The hours may be split over semesters, as well as in summer courses.
Many athletes take fewer hours during the season in order to balance their schoolwork and athletic careers. When less than the minimum number of hours is taken, the athletic department has to make up some of the difference.
“We’re going to be playing this year with 10 less guys than we had last year on scholarship because of the block tuition,” Collums said. “We end up having to make up a lot of that for our kids, and that’s just what happens.”
“The answer to block tuition is obviously more scholarship money so we can take care of everybody. And naturally that’s the way that the rules are set up at the next level.”
An increased revenue and greater allowance for scholarships will not only help out players on current teams, but it will also help bring in more talented athletes in the future.
“I’m fired up that we’re moving to the Southland Conference,” Collums said. “Because as far as athletics, the way we do scholarships and academics are concerned, we are going to be able to take care of a lot more kids. It’s a much better fit. The key is recruiting, and it’s a different ballgame now.”
“It will be an adjustment phase for us, but I think we will be fine and like Dr. Schubert said, it will really fit the mission of what we’re doing here.”