Ind. district lowers academic bar for student athletes

School officials in South Bend, Ind., have figured out how to deal with the problem of high school athletes who can’t keep their grades up enough to remain academically eligible. They’re lowering the academic standards.

The old policy required a 2.0 grade point average for students in intermediate centers and high schools. That’s a “C” student with roughly a 73 percent passing grade on tests etc.

Now that the school board has voted 5-to-2 to lower the academic standard for freshmen to a 1.5 GPA. “D” students can still play sports.

The action came despite a plea from former Notre Dame basketball coach “Digger” Phelps, who showed up at a meeting this week to reinforce what he wrote in an op-ed last week.

Nor will it help promising athletes. I recall the plight of one most valuable conference football player who just barely slipped by under pathetic academic standards of the past. He helped his team to compete. But South Bend schools didn’t help him. He couldn’t get into a college. He couldn’t compete in the game of life.

With much prodding by me and others concerned with the academic welfare of student athletes, the school board wisely decided a half dozen years ago to hold kids to higher standards than what the Indiana High School Athletic Association requires — passing just 70 percent of classes.

The pitiful IHSAA standards mean that a kid is eligible for basketball, football or other sports and extracurricular activities with five D’s and an F.

It’s true that the new rules apply only to freshmen. But Phelps wonders what kind of school system is delivering kids to the 9th grade unable to maintain a “C” average?

“If so many students reach middle school without academic ability to reach a C average for athletic eligibility, what has the system done to prepare them in grades one through five?” he said.

But supporters of the idea said it gives coaches a chance to “engage” kids.

In Minnesota, students have to be “on track” to meet the state’s graduation standards within six years starting in the seventh grade.