When ACU joins the Southland Conference next fall, athletics is not the only department that will feel the effects of the move to a new conference. Academics will feel a definite impact of the adjustment as well.
“The reason the new standards are being put into place is there are quite a few students who are playing sports for Division I institutions who, academically, are struggling and they’re not making it in college and they’re actually dropping out,” said Kevin Campbell, chief enrollment officer. “So the college presidents are actually trying to increase the standards so that student athletes are more even par with the remaining student body on an academic preparation standpoint, but also to try to improve the retention and graduation rates of student athletes.”
Students eligible under the current standards, but not under the new standards, will still be able to be admitted under an academic redshirt, which would give the student a year to bring their GPA up, but would make them ineligible to participate in athletics for that period.
“At the Division II and Division III level, there is a disparity amongst the academic qualifications and the preparedness of the student athletes versus the overall population, so one of the main drivers behind moving to Division I as to close that gap between our athletes and the current students,” Campbell said.
Campbell said 30 percent of current basketball and football players in D-I schools nationwide will not be eligible academically under the new standards coming in 2016.
Under the new standards that will come along with the move to the new conference, a student’s GPA and SAT or ACT scores would be put onto a sliding scale to determine their eligibility.
In addition, transfer students will be required to have received their associate’s degree before transferring to a D-I institution.
“It will also improve our overall student pool; our recruiting is very, very likely to improve,” retired professor of English David Merrell said. “It gives us a chance to raise our expectations for everyone.”
Merrell said that he believed that, competition-wise, ACU was also a much better fit in Division I in most sports.
“The big thing is not changing our academics, it’s changing our competition’s academics,” Merrell, former chair of the Academic Requirements Committee, said, “The schools in that conference are accepting students that look more like our students than the schools in the conference we’re leaving. Most of our student athletes are going to be eligible in Division I too, because our standards suggest that.”
The value of an ACU graduate’s resume would also increase, because of the recognition that comes with Division I, Merrell said.
In Division II there are 23 conferences, and in evaluating the university’s standings in the division, they found that the Lone Star Conference, which they were a part of, ranked 22nd, based on academic accomplishments, graduation rates among athletes, and ACT and SAT scores.
“I think it makes the academics more difficult; I think it makes getting in more difficult, but it also attracts more people,” Samantha Pettit, senior special education major from Vancouver, Wash., said.
According to an article on Southland Conference’s website, ACU has produced dozens of academic All-Americans, as well as 30 NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarship winners.
“I think we realized that the academic eligibility criteria at the Division I level, was significantly different than that of Division II criteria,” said President Phil Schubert. “It was much more stringent and aligned much more closely with the broader academic requirements and aspirations of ACU.”
According to its website, while successful on the fields and courts, the Southland Conference has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to the academic and athletic success of its student-athletes. In the last six years, no other Division I conference has improved its Academic Progress Rate as well as the Southland Conference and the academic progress the league has shown ultimately leads to higher graduation rates for the student-athletes.
“I would tell you that academics was one of the primary, if not the most significant reason for the change and that is because we felt that Division II participation really was misaligned academically with what we were trying to achieve broadly as an institution,” Schubert said.
In an article on their website, Southland commissioner Tom Burnett said, “Abilene Christian is an accomplished institution, excelling in academics and athletics, and is well-positioned to succeed in Division I and the Southland Conference.”
For more information about the Southland Conference, visit their website at www.southland.org.