Sat | Dec 16, 2017

Editorial | Debate Intercol’s dumping of GPA bar

Published:Friday | September 29, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Akshai Mansingh and his new Faculty of Sports at the University of the West Indies (UWI) have probably been handed their first topic for research since its formal launch two months ago: the academic achievements of Caribbean student athletes and whether they should have to meet minimum scholastic criteria to turn out for their teams. There should be special focus on Jamaica.

In the meantime, until empirical data and related analysis are at hand, this is a matter on which we look forward to the intervention of the education minister, Ruel Reid, as well as the principals of Jamaica's universities and colleges, including the UWI, Mona, and the University of Technology (UTech).

A fortnight ago, as this newspaper reported on Wednesday, the Intercollegiate Sports Association (Intercol) voted to eliminate the 2.0 grade point average (GPA) Jamaican college athletes were required to maintain to participate in the association's competitions. It is a decision that we expect to reignite a debate that has raged sporadically at the high-school level.

For critics, the removal represents a lowering of the bar for student athletes and the elevation of sports over academics by administrators in search of glory - and some will also claim economic rewards - for themselves and their institutions. It does little for many students who will be recruited for their sporting skills, who may well complete university or college (or drop out before graduation) having learned little and being even less equipped for life after athletics.

Laurence Garriques, the Intecol general secretary, rejects these concerns and argues that his association is just falling within international standards and levelling the playing field by opening sport participation to all registered students of tertiary institutions.

Indeed, Paul Francis, the chief athletics coach at UTech, claims that the old system was unfair to his institution and the UWI, Mona, which have higher matriculation standards than other institutions, but might have students who couldn't participate in an Intercol-sanctioned competition because they were going through "a poor (academic) run".

Notably, Mr Francis suggests that the old Intercol policy was a copy of what is done by America's National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) - an organisation that operates in a market where college sports attracts huge inflows of money, allowing the institutions to spend large sums on their athletics and related programmes. In some respects, it might have been. We, however, don't see how the NCAA's regime has been improved upon by Intercol's new arrangements.

 

SUPPORTING MECHANISM

 

Insofar as we are aware, apart from removing the GPA requirement, Intercol put in place no supporting mechanism to encourage the academic advancement of student athletes. There was a time - and there are still complaints about the problem - when it was relatively common for athletes to 'graduate' from college not better educated than when they enrolled. The 'system' accommodated for the glory and riches of the school. Some of these athletes, of course, made it as professionals.

In the early 2000s, to ensure the student athlete was not academically short-changed, the NCAA overhauled its accountability regime, including implementing a mechanism to hold member institutions accountable for the academic progress of students.

Its Academic Progress Metric measures outcomes, by sporting teams and their members, by term, annually and on a rolling four-year cycle, to help determine the eligibility of individual athletes and overall achievement. Teams must return a minimum score under the metric. The NCAA also tracks the graduation success rates of universities and colleges. Good performance, or higher academic outcomes, can mean rewards; poor performance brings penalties.

The absence of a system - even if some institutions ensure a balance between academics and sports - could well reinforce a notion that sporting skills are all that matter, as well as the concept of pluralistic ignorance, the psychological situation where the minority position holds sway because the majority, who secretly abhor it, assume to be the norm.