MCMILLEN BILL IS ONLY HOPE FOR STANDARDS

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The National Collegiate Athletic Association President's Commission is proposing that the grade-point average for freshman athletic eligibility be raised from a 2.0 on 11 core subjects (covering English, math, science, social studies and foreign languages) to a 2.5 in 13 core courses.

Meanwhile, in Anne Arundel County, the Board of Education is stuck on a 1.6 requirement for all subjects -- not necessarily core courses -- which basically is a D-plus and not C-minus, as they like to call it.

Recently in its review of the Policy Manual, the board decided against raising the standards while other counties, such as Prince George's, have gone to the 2.0.

It appears the only hope we have of motivating county student-athletes to work harder in the classroom is Representative Tom McMillen's bill. McMillen has proposed that states would receive extra Chapter 1 money if they maintain a 2.0 academic requirement for those in extracurricular activities.

McMillen suggests that the districts raising standards would receive an additional 10 percent in grants, which would amount to more than $420,000 for Anne Arundel County schools.

That extra money certainly would improve the education system, especially at schools like Northeast, where the math scores were the lowest in the county this year.

When you are at the bottom of the totem pole, as Northeast is, it becomes obvious that help is needed, and we all know that money speaks and brings help. If such a bill is ever passed, it is hoped that the board woulddistribute the majority of extra money to such troubled areas.

I think the bill is a marvelous idea, as is the President's Commission's proposal to require college freshmen to ring up a 2.5 or it's no play.

Just think: If the NCAA approves the 2.5 GPA for freshmen at its January convention, how far behind Anne Arundel County standards will be if they remain at 1.6?

It took the cocaine-induced death offormer University of Maryland star basketball player Len Bias on June 19, 1986, and subsequent revelations of academic skating at CollegePark and other schools to wake up school systems all over.

As a result of the national attention to academics and the exploitation of athletes brought on by the Bias tragedy, this county's embarrassing extracurricular requirement was exposed. I remember asking in that summer of 1986 what county standards were and being appalled to learn that a student-athlete needed only an 0.66 to play.

An 0.66 is not even a D, and up until then, that's all students had to have. That explained to me why so many outstanding athletes throughout the county never seemed to go anywhere despite their physical ability. It was themental ability to succeed in college that they lacked.

Simply put, too many county athletes couldn't get in the front door because of poor grades.

So, in August of 1986, in what it called a "crackdown," the Board of Education went from an 0.66 to a 1.6.

Some crackdown, right?

Outgoing county Coordinator of Physical Education Paul Rusko has fought hard to keep the 1.6 rather than go to the college minimum 2.0. He did it again this year when the board was reviewing its regulations. Rusko is on record as being opposed to lifting the academic standards, and that is a black eye on his tenure.

Why was heopposed to the 2.0? Well, mainly for the same reason many other coaches and athletic directors were, and that was the fear that some student who couldn't quite cut it academically would be left out of playing high school sports.

Possibly that student would be deprived of a fun part of high school life and maybe go so far as to drop out.

But as one board member, Tom Twombly, who is in favor of the 2.0, said, "It's a privilege to play sports, and you have to earn the privilege."

That's absolutely correct, and under current regulations, it's possible that a student can fail a course, receive three D's, and score an A and B in such courses as physical education and maintain the 1.6. How's that for motivation?

If a student-athlete can't do what currently is required in this county, then maybe he shouldn't be out on the field and instead should be cracking the books or spendingquality time with a tutor.

Under current guidelines, student-athletes who don't meet the 1.6 requirement and are declared ineligible are allowed to practice with teams while on probation and working to be reinstated.

A student-athlete is in academic trouble because he's apparently not keeping up with his work, yet he's still out with the football or basketball team every day for at least a couple of hours when he needs to be home studying.

As for the student-athlete who tries hard but can't make the grade, maybe he needs to get his priorities in order and give up sports or the drama club. He should ask the question, "Am I in school to get the best education I can so as tobe prepared for college or the work world, or am I here to be a star?"

For most being a star is temporary, but education is for a lifetime. It's the ticket to a good life.

If McMillen's bill ever passes, maybe it could be an overall 2.0 with all courses, whether they be core or not, to be included. That way the learning-disabled or the student who really tries but has problems would have his shot by taking a certain number of non-core subjects.

Also, the argument that some minorities would be left out because of higher standards is justa lame excuse. Prince George's County has its share of minorities, and it went to the 2.0 with no great drop-off.

Prince George's athletes met the higher standard because they wanted to play, and three of four state championships in boys basketball were won by its schoolsthis past winter.

Prince George's is proof that the students willdo whatever it takes to play.

And really, shouldn't it be the philosophy of all education systems to motivate students and not just tosee that they graduate?

The main objective of the state educationsystem is to see that students graduate and not to necessarily motivate them. That's obvious when you consider all that is required is that a student earn 22 credits and have a GPA of 0.53 to graduate.

Old Mill veteran athletic director Jim Dillon pointed out that the state says, "A student needs to have satisfactory progress," and he asked, "What does that mean?"

Dillon said that academic progress needsto be defined and suggests that eligibility be determined by satisfactory progress from year to year. There is some validity to that, butisn't progress prompted by motivation?

So you ask, why punish theathletes and extracurricular types? Good question, but let's go backto Twombly, who said high school athletics were a privilege. You have to be motivated to earn that privilege.

By passing McMillen's bill, Congress could motivate the states to motivate its students.

The gifted and talented athletes could set the tempo for everyone by earning their privilege with at least a 2.0, which should be their year-round GPA and not just for a specific sports season.

Make it a 2.0 in all subjects and require the students to maintain it year-roundto play sports. That way, those who go on to the privilege of playing college sports will have a chance at producing a 2.5 their freshmanyear.

The college recruiters want to hear about that 2.0.

Thispast spring at the Severna Park-Old Mill baseball playoff game, Tom Neuberger, the father of Severna Park's outstanding junior outfielder/hitter, Steve, who is a Division I prospect, said, "I've been amazedthat the first thing they (college coaches and scouts) want to know is, what are your grades?"

No question that most college coaches are putting the emphasis where it belongs, because they realize that it's a waste of time recruiting a great talent who can't cut it academically.

That's why more than ever we need a 2.0 requirement -- andit appears the only way we will is through McMillen, not the Board of Education.

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