Big 12 Sports
Big 12 has stricter eligibility requirements than other major conferences.
Since joining the Big 12 Conference and adopting new initial academic eligibility requirements in 1996, Nebraska has had just one partial qualifier in any sport.
It's a stark contrast to the Big Eight Conference days, when Nebraska athletic teams would take at least a half dozen nonqualifiers and partial qualifiers each year.
Former football standouts Eric Warfield, Toby Wright, Michael Booker, Jamel Williams and Jared Tomich were among these athletes.
The allowance of unlimited partial qualifiers all ended in 1995. The last unlimited class of partial qualifiers, athletes who have fulfilled one of two academic eligibility requirements, which enrolled at NU included current basketball players Troy Piatkowski, Larry Florence and Alvin Mitchell (now at Cincinnati), and football linebacker Eric Johnson. That's four male partial qualifiers. Two other partial qualifiers opted to give up football after sitting out the first year, Johnson said.
NCAA rules don't restrict the number of partial qualifiers or nonqualifiers a school can have, but conferences can. The Big 12 does. The initial eligibility standards are among the toughest of the major athletic conferences in the country.
Under the new Big 12 rules, only two male and two female partial qualifiers are allowed to enroll each year, with no more than one athlete in each sport. And nonqualifiers aren't accepted at all. They must go to junior college.
For NU and other former Big Eight schools, the Big 12 eligibility standards were a big change.
The Big Eight didn't limit the number of partial qualifiers a school could have and allowed nonqualifiers to enroll at institutions. Nonqualifiers had to sit out the first year - paying their own tuition - and then were eligible to play the second year provided they passed 24 credit hours over two semesters.
Originally, Big 12 schools agreed to adopt the old Big Eight rules for initial eligibility, former NU Football Coach Tom Osborne said. Then some Big 12 schools, led by the University of Texas, pushed for stricter rules. These standards are the one in place now.
The Big 12 now uses NCAA Clearinghouse standards to admit athletes. An athlete can establish eligibility with a GPA in 13 core classes as low as 2.0, provided the student also presents an SAT score (re-centered) of 1010 or an ACT sum score of 86. At the other end of the index, a minimum 820 SAT or 68 ACT sum score establishes the floor for students with GPAs of 2.500 or higher.
What upset Osborne at the time was the limits on partial and nonqualifiers. Some conferences like the Big Ten, don't have any.
"Where this rule can hurt you is if a player is considering Nebraska and Ohio State or some other school in the Big Ten," Osborne said. "The initial signing day is in February."
The Big Ten, which had always proclaimed itself as an elite academic conference, does not limit the number of partial and nonqualifiers. Theoretically, an athlete could have scored a 60 sum score on the ACT (an average of 15) and had a 1.5 GPA and still enrolled in a school like Michigan. They wouldn't play, but they could eventually.
But the Big Ten does have stricter rules once students enroll in institutions, said Jennifer Heppel, director of legislative and eligibility services for the conference.
The NCAA rules states an athlete must complete 24 hours toward his or her major each year. The Big Ten rules require 51 completed credit hours after the second year and 78 after the third year.
"We put more emphasis on their college work than high school grades," Heppel said.
The Western Athletic Conference also has no limits on partial and nonqualifiers.
Rules didn't change either when a few of the former Southwestern Conference schools joined the WAC in 1996, said Dell Robinson, assistant commissioner for compliance services.
"(Outlawing nonqualifiers) was never an issue we seriously considered," Robinson said.
The Pacific 10 Conference and the Southeastern Conference do limit partial and nonqualifiers.
The Pac-10 copied the same initial eligibility standards of the Big 12, and developed the exact policy, said Bill Morgan, assistant athletic director of compliance at the University of Arizona.
The Southeastern Conference has similar standards as the Big 12 and the Pac-10, but it's a little less restrictive. Four male partial qualifiers (two in football, one in basketball and one in any other male sport) and four females (one in women's basketball and three in other sports) are allowed each year, said Associate Southeastern Conference Commissioner Jim McCullough.
"Our presidents' felt that only these individuals had the best chance to graduate," McCullough said.
In 1997, McCullough said the SEC added the clause that one nonqualifier could also be accepted, provided he or she posts at least a 2.25 grade point average and an 820 SAT, or a sum score of 68 on the ACT. The nonqualifier then counts against one of the four partial-qualifier totals.
Since the new rules in the Big 12, former Nebraska Basketball Coach Danny Nee said he hasn't felt the negative effects he originally feared.
He hasn't lost recruits to other schools with more lenient conference rules. But he still doesn't like the change.
"I didn't think there was anything wrong with the old way," Nee said. "It wasn't being abused. It was successful for several athletes. It cuts down on giving kids opportunities."
While NU hasn't felt the effect in basketball, Morgan said it could only be a matter of time.
"Those schools that do have standards and such rules for preventing nonqualifiers put themselves at a recruiting disadvantage," Morgan said.
And Osborne contends that there is a recruiting disadvantage, especially when searching for the big-time, high-profile athlete.
"If that player is on the bubble and hasn't gotten the ACT score yet," Osborne said, "he probably is going to choose Ohio State because he knows he can sit out, pay his own way and then play his second year if he doesn't get the score."