February 1, 2013
After Boys and Girls High School imposed tougher academic requirements for student-athletes in 2011, its perennially winning mens basketball team benched seven playersand exited the state tournament in the first round.
Now, the city is imposing academic and attendance standards for the 40,000 students who play school sports that are even more stringent than Boys and Girls’.
The Department of Education is officially alerting schools about the changes this week. But coaches, principals and athletic directors say they’ve known for months and are beginning to prepare for the tougher eligibility requirements, which could hobble many teams.
The changes follow new standards set by the National Collegiate Athletic Association in 2011 and are meant to address lagging academic performance among many of the city’s marquee athletes, coaches say.
“There was a growing concern about the way we do business,” said Wings Academy Principal Wayne Cox, referring to the previous standards. “The new policies are saying you guys have gotten away with s— for a very long time.”
Currently, Public Sports Athletic League rules allow students to miss school once a week, take few academic courses, and fall off a four-year graduation track while still remaining eligible, and the league never looks at students’ grade point averages. That means a point guard on a basketball team could be eligible to play for four seasons but still fall eight credits shy of graduation at the end of his senior year.
“On a personal level, I felt that was a travesty,” said Susan Rossi, a PSAL official who helped convene an advisory committee to oversee changes to the standards.
The committee met three times over the course of about six months, said Cox, a former coach who was also a member. The group consisted of principals, athletic directors, guidance counselors, coaches, and even representatives from the U.S. Coaches Association, Rossi said.
They recommended standards that the city is putting into effect in September for all sports. Now, students will be able to play only if they are on track to graduate. They will have to be in school 90 percent of the time; take a full course load, including at least three courses in academic subjects; earn 10 credits a year; and maintain a 65 GPA.
“I definitely think it’s going to be a challenge for those students who don’t challenge themselves academically,” said Mike Beckles, nine-year coach of the varsity basketball team at South Shore Campus.
But he said he thought the new policies would ultimately work to boost student achievement. “There’s too many student-athletes who just want to play, to be eligible,” he said.
The new standards mark a rare reform to the PSAL under Mayor Bloomberg, who has overseen sweeping changes to almost all of his other education programs and infrastructure. It comes at a time when reforms are increasingly focused on preparing students to go to college — something that is no longer guaranteed with a high school diploma.
“I just think it’s meant to get kids to graduate,” said Benjamin Cardozo High School principal Gerald Martori. “We don’t have student athletes graduating. They finish their eligibility and then what happens?”
Still, it’s unclear how much of the directive came from the Department of Education, which controls the PSAL and has spent the last year tightening high school graduation and credit accumulation rules for all schools.
As of last month, a department spokeswoman said the department was still reviewing PSAL’s requirements. But Beckles and other coaches said they learned about the new standards in October. Athletic directors said they found out in December, when PSAL officials gave them a memo that told principals to begin informing their school community immediately.
“All of these new requirements will be go[ing] into effect in September 2013,” according to the memo, which GothamSchools obtained. “This means that principals must inform their Athletic Directors, Coaches, parents, and students as soon as possible.”
PSAL Executive Director Donald Douglas declined to comment about the new standards during a basketball tournament at Benjamin Cardozo High School last month. But coaches at the tournament said they expected the new standards to have a significant impact on high school sports next year. They warned that basketball, football, and baseball — sports that tend to attract black and Latino males, who post especially low graduation rates — are likely to take an extra hit.
“In the beginning it’s going to be difficult,” said Cheez Ezenekwe, a junior varsity basketball coach at Martin Van Buren High School. “Once people get used to it, it’ll be a good thing.”
“It might be a little surprise for people initially because even when [the principal] put it in place here at Boys and Girls, I think for coaches it was a little bit of a shock,” Ruth Lovelace, who coaches boys basketball, said today. “But after it was instituted, it’s just a way of life. You just have to try and get kids who it might be an issue for … the resources they need.”
PSAL’s new academic and attendance standards will be significantly steeper than the current ones:
- Students will now have to have a 90 percent attendance rate, up from 80 percent.
- Students must pass five classes and physical education class in the most recent marking period, three of which must be in “major” subjects (math, English, social sciences, and science). Career and technical education classes won’t count.
- Students must accumulate 10 credits in the previous two marking periods prior to the season of eligibility. Previously, the number was eight credits.
- For the first time, students must achieve a 65 grade point average. Previously there were no requirements for GPA.