Should freshmen be banned from big-time college sports?

Conference considering a 'year of readiness'

The Big Ten athletic conference is reconsidering whether college freshmen should be allowed to play in competition sports, but a 'readiness year' proposal has drawn criticism from fans.

In a statement last week, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany announced that the conference was reaching out to "thought leaders" to weigh the benefits of allowing freshmen to compete in interscholastic athletics, among other student-athlete issues.

Delany suggested that the motivation to change the rules would be to make sure students are focused on their academics, although some conference commissioners across the nation have also reportedly been unhappy about the rising prevalence of "one-and-done" basketball players, who leave after their freshman seasons, Sports Illustrated reports.

The University of Maryland's student newspaper had been the first to report that the Big Ten conference was considering the possibility of banning freshmen from football, basketball, and other varsity sports.

According to a Big 10 statement, the conference is seeking feedback on issues affecting student-athletes, including:

  • A year of readiness for all sports, or select sports;
  • Student-athlete time demands;
  • Playing seasons;
  • Initial eligibility requirements; and
  • "Other areas impacting academics".

The NCAA used to mandate that freshmen sit out from competition, but eliminated that rule in 1972.

Critics: Readiness is 'unfair'

The idea has been poorly received by Big Ten coaches, as well as by fans and followers of the league.

"Education must remain a priority because the overwhelming majority of college athletes won't play professionally," sports columnist Chip Scoggins argues in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Their motivation should always revolve around earning a degree."

"But this 'readiness' idea is fundamentally unfair," Scoggins adds. "It feels like an overreaction to the very small percentage of basketball players who view college as nothing more than a one-year pit stop on their way to the NBA."

Big Ten officials stress that they are seeking agreement from other athletic conferences, rather than planning to act alone.

"While we are comfortable generating multiple ideas about an 'education first' approach to intercollegiate athletics in the 21st century, we won't go it alone on any of these matters," said Delany. "We look forward to working with our colleagues in the NCAA Division I governance structure, and to exploring a broad exchange of ideas from both inside and outside of intercollegiate athletics" (Scoggins, Star Tribune, 3/1; Volk, SB Nation, 2/24; Sports Illustrated, 2/24).

The takeaway: The Big 10 athletic conference is considering a proposal to ban freshmen from competition.

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