Alum Kirk Mango: College sports scholarship more challenging with new NCAA guidelines

Kirk Mango

Kirk Mango

Early this past February, Chicago Tribune reporter John Keilman published an informative piece titled, “Bad grades, low test scores can scramble signing day plans.”

The focus in Keilman’s article was on football, college scholarship and the difficulty today’s football athletes are facing in their quest for a paid college education based on academic eligibility … or lack thereof.

It is a pursuit that will most assuredly become more arduous in 2016 as the new NCAA Division I initial-eligibility standards are slated to take effect.

However, the information presented in this well-written Tribune piece goes beyond the scope of simply the gridiron as initial-eligibility standards, whether now or in 2016, don’t just apply to football but to all NCAA college sports. All athletes, and their parents, should familiarize themselves with current and future guidelines if there are any future aspirations of sports scholarship competition beyond high school. This knowledge could very well spell the difference for an athlete’s continued career, creating an opportunity to make better, more sound choices as they work their way down that path.

Getting back to John’s piece, I found the highlighted story of Darius Moffett (a top football player in the state four years ago) to be quite enlightening as he faced numerous academic challenges in attempting to claim the football scholarship he was offered.

A similar story played out for all-state running back Kapri Bibbs from Plainfield North High School. His ACT score tipped the scales against him as he was forced to earn college credits from two junior colleges before he could get to Colorado State.

And statistics do show the issue is going to get worse.

According to the Keilman’s article:

“About 10 percent of aspiring Division I athletes fail to meet the NCAA’s academic benchmarks each year, and that proportion will likely increase when tougher rules take effect in 2016: The NCAA has calculated that 15 percent of college athletes – and 35 percent of football players – who entered school in 2009 wouldn’t be eligible to play under the new criteria.”

So what is it that’s making college entrance more difficult and challenging?

NCAA logoBasically, the NCAA is raising the academic bar and tightening up their standards. Whether with GPA, ACT score (and the sliding scale between the two), required courses, and/or when those course loads need to be completed by, or all the above, the path to achieving college athletic scholarship is fast becoming a tougher road to travel – a road that athletes need to prepare themselves for, and a lot earlier than they currently are, as too many student athletes don’t view their academics as important soon enough, say as soon as they enter high school as freshmen.

I have been teaching a long time, going on 34 years, and my experience with many students and student athletes is that they have a propensity toNOT plan too far into the future. I would say a good number don’t look past the coming weekend, so the importance of doing well in school early in order to set foundations for their future doesn’t really hit home with them.

It is because of this parents must take an active role in building a thinking process within their children that places school, and doing well in school, at the top of their children’s priority list at young ages. Just like anything else, foundations start young and waiting until high school to build these foundations may very well be too late. And this is true whether a student becomes a student athlete or not as sound schooling will help them in any endeavor they choose…not just in garnering a college athletic scholarship.

This would be the only addition I might make to Keilman’s article as he emphasizes the importance of one’s schooling early in high school.

Me? I would like to see those foundations built starting in kindergarten.

Doing well in school needs to become a habit … just like brushing your teeth, exercise and eating healthy should be. It is this habit of excellence in school that helps to keep open the doors of opportunity … including athletic scholarship, if that is the direction one wants to travel; a much better circumstance than the highlighted individuals faced in the Tribune piece referenced, one where doors closed and options narrowed.

Arm yourself with the knowledge needed to make the best choices now by familiarizing yourself with the NCAA Eligibility Standards I linked to earlier. As I said, it could mean the difference for your (or your offspring’s, if you are a parent) athletic future.

The Voices section of NIU Today features opinions and perspectives from across campus. Former Northern Illinois University hall-of-fame gymnast Kirk Mango is widely acclaimed as the “Lord of the Rings” by virtue of his National Collegiate Athletic Association and Illinois High School Association still rings championships. He is scheduled to appear between 11 a.m. and noon Tuesday, March 26, on WGN’s Midday News (Channel 9, Chicago).

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