The dream of every college wrestler to become a four-time NCAA champion may someday no longer be a possibility, as the Big Ten is reportedly considering making college freshmen ineligible for athletic competition, according to a number of media reports Friday, Feb. 20.
The Big Ten is seeking feedback from its fourteen member schools – all which have wrestling programs — about the possibility of not allowing first-year athletes to participate in intercollegiate sports competition as they adjust to college life. In a statement to ESPN.com, the conference said it wants to start a “national discussion regarding a year of readiness for student-athletes,” making clear that this not an official proposal.
“The rules surrounding freshmen ineligibility don’t fall within the areas of autonomy, which means either conferences choose to adopt the policy on their own or the legislation is voted on by the entire division,” the NCAA said in a statement issued Friday.
“The Diamondback”, the independent student newspaper at the University of Maryland (which, along with Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, are the two newest members of the Big Ten), broke the story on Thursday, revealing it had come across a Big Ten document titled “A Year of Readiness” which discusses the idea of making “freshmen ineligible for football and men’s basketball” (quoting the student paper).
“The document, which shows football and men’s basketball as the only sports with graduation rates less than 75 percent across the NCAA, states that a push for freshman ineligibility would benefit athletes academically,” according to “The Diamondback”.
The article goes on to say, “Men’s basketball and football players lag behind other sports in terms of academics, according to data provided in the document. Among the 34 sports listed in the Graduation Success Rate data, football and men’s basketball ranked last in the 2004 to 2007 cohort, according to the document. Among the 38 sports listed in the Academic Progress Rate data from 2009 to 2013, those two sports also ranked last.” Furthermore, the Maryland student paper reports that the Big Ten document claims that football and men’s basketball student-athletes account for less than 19 percent of Division I participants, yet they account for more than 80 percent of academic infraction cases.
Maryland president Wallace Loh told “The Diamondback”, “What I like about the concept of the proposal is it puts right up front the basic issue: Are we basically a quasi-professional activity or primarily an educational activity? And if you support it, you are basically saying very clearly the No. 1 priority is the education of the students.”
Commissioners of two other major college conferences – Larry Scott of the Pac-12, and the Big 12’s Bob Bowlsby – both told CBSSports.com that several commissioners have discussed freshman ineligibility, and, in the words of Scott, there will be “much more serious conversations about it in the coming months and year.”
At least one athletic director – Gene Smith at Ohio State, a charter member of the Big Ten – expressed concerns about basing freshman athletic eligibility simply on some men’s college basketball stars spending just one year in college before launching pro careers. “One-and-done is a small percentage — it’s not even 1 percent of our student-athletes when you take all the schools,” Smith told ESPN.com. “That’s way off base to me. Do we have challenges with young people who aren’t really prepared the way they should be to attack college education? No doubt about it.”
None of the news stories reviewed by College Wrestling Examiner mentioned the potential impact of freshman athletic ineligibility on wrestling; in fact, a number focused solely on football and men’s basketball. Prior to 1972, all freshmen student-athletes – including wrestlers – could not compete in intercollegiate sporting events. Freshman wrestlers were not eligible to compete in dual meets or the NCAA championships from 1928 – the year of the first mat championships under the auspices of the NCAA – until the early 1970s. There was one exception: a brief period immediately after the conclusion of World War II, when freshmen – many of them war veterans who were well into their twenties – were allowed to wrestle in intercollegiate competition. A couple top wrestlers of that era – University of Iowa’s Joe Scarpello, and Oklahoma State’s Dick Hutton – claimed titles as freshmen in their mid-20s at the 1947 NCAAs, only the second wrestling championships held after World War II.
Oher than in that small window of time immediately after the war, college wrestlers did not have the opportunity to win an NCAA title as a freshman for more than four decades. Among the superstars denied this opportunity as freshmen: Oklahoma’s Dan Hodge, Oklahoma State’s Yojiro Uetake, and Iowa State’s Dan Gable, all named by a panel of mat historians assembled by “Amateur Wrestling News” as all-time greats. Were the Big Ten “Year of Readiness” idea banning freshmen athletic competition become an actual rule, four-time NCAA Division I wrestling champs Pat Smith, Cael Sanderson and Kyle Dake — and, depending on what happens at the 2015 NCAAs next month, Ohio State’s Logan Stieber — may have that club all to themselves.