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Maryland, Big Ten mull the idea of making freshmen ineligible for football, men's basketball

What would be the impact if football and men's basketball players couldn't compete as freshmen?

The Big Ten Conference has begun a discussion with its members about the possibility of pursuing a national rule change to make freshmen ineligible to play in men's basketball and football.

The idea was discussed briefly Thursday by the University of Maryland's Athletic Council at its monthly meeting, though an official vote will not be taken until the matter is discussed more thoroughly.

Maryland men's soccer coach Sasho Cirovski — a member of the committee made up of coaches, athletic and school administrators, faculty members, boosters and athletes — said he learned of the proposal only "a few minutes" before walking into the meeting.

"It was more of an educational discussion of something that we might take up next time," Cirovski said. "This was something that came up pretty late, and there was more of a philosophical discussion among the members of the Athletic Council. It's nothing that's imminent or pressing."

The Big Ten said in a statement that it "has reached out to member institutions to gauge their interest in beginning a national discussion regarding a year of readiness for student-athletes, and also provided background information. There is no official proposal, but we look forward to continuing the conversation with our campus leadership moving forward."

The Diamondback, the university's independent student newspaper, first reported Thursday that the Big Ten is trying to gather support among its 14 member institutions for the "year of readiness."

Commissioners from a number of conferences have broached the topic of making freshmen ineligible, as they were prior to 1972, in part to counteract the number of athletes who only attend college to wait out their time until they're eligible for the NBA or NFL.

The Diamondback quoted university president Dr. Wallace Loh as being in favor of the Big Ten's idea.

"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?" Loh said. "If they do well because they spend more time, get more academic advising … their freshman year, they're going to graduate. And I think it's worth spending an extra year of financial support to ensure that they graduate."

In a statement Thursday, Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said, "If this is the best way to accomplish the goals of raising graduation rates and academic performance for all student-athletes, then we should consider it."

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who played basketball for the late Dean Smith at North Carolina, has been at the forefront of a movement among high-ranking college administrators to scale back in terms of year-round training schedules.

He could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Maryland football coach Randy Edsall — who was also unavailable for comment Thursday — has been quoted extensively saying that he is in favor of mandatory redshirting of freshman athletes.

"If we're in a true collegiate model that we talk about, or people like to talk about, it's hard. It is hard for these kids," Edsall said before last season. "School is going to start next week. Now they've got the added weight of taking 15 [credits] and getting acclimated in terms of time management, taking these classes and reaching the expectations that we have for them in the classroom."

Wednesday, Terps men's basketball coach Mark Turgeon said his team's three-game homestand over the next two weeks will give his players a chance to keep up — or catch up — academically.

"This time of year, you're really worried about [academics] as a coach, making sure your kids don't get too far behind," Turgeon said.

Maryland has a summer program called STEP that places many of its incoming athletes who are considered at-risk academically in classroom and tutoring sessions for up to six hours a day for several weeks in order to get them ready for what they might face once the school year and season begin.

Cirovski said that "many mechanisms" are in place such as redshirting — keeping an athlete off the playing field for a year, which he or she typically gets back from the NCAA later in terms of eligibility — to help athletes make the transition from high school to college. Each team has its own set of academic support staff members, including at least one who travels full time with men's basketball and football.

"From a personal standpoint, I would be completely opposed to this proposal for our sport, and I can't see how it would be good for any sport," Cirovski said. "It's something that is not necessary, but I think we have to do our due diligence and explore. But I am not in position to speak for the University of Maryland."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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