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Core Courses and NCAA Eligibility

By Kaylen Overway and Amy Routt | November 2023

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The NCAA Eligibility Center can be an incredible resource for school counselors and students looking to play sports in college, but navigating the ins and outs of NCAA eligibility can be daunting. By working with ASCA and state affiliates, the high school review unit in the Eligibility Center is working to demystify our processes. The team comprises seven staff members, including five former educators, who are responsible for reviewing high school academics for NCAA initial eligibility. The policies and procedures related to these reviews separate them into three components: the validity of the school (school policies and operations), the instructional model(s) at the school, and the core courses taught at the school. This article focuses on core-course reviews, which include a balance of the course content and rigor of performance tasks.

Maintaining the core-course list is one of the responsibilities of primary and secondary contacts. Per legislation adopted by NCAA member schools, courses must: qualify for high school graduation in English, math, natural or physical science, social science, world language, comparative religion or philosophy; be considered four-year college preparatory; be taught at or above the high school’s regular academic level; and be taught by a qualified instructor. The high school review staff uses criteria established by the NCAA High School Review Committee to determine whether core courses meet the legislated requirements. The criteria are published in the committee’s policies and procedures (Appendix A), which can be found on the Eligibility Center high school portal.

Seventy-four percent of the core course titles submitted are approved without the school needing to submit additional information. These decisions are based on history and context of a school’s core-course list, course information on the school’s website and working relationships with state departments of education.

For approximately 19% of core courses submitted, our staff will ask for additional information about the course contents and performance tasks. If your school receives an RC8 for a course, this does not represent a final decision; rather, our staff needs more information about the course. Provide the following documentation for RC8 courses via the high school portal: a course description, a unit-by-unit outline of content, a flow chart that shows where the course fits in the sequence for that content area and several assignments and assessments used in the course. The outline should show the specific concepts your school will cover when teaching the course, rather than a table of contents from a textbook. When submitting assignments and assessments, choose those that demonstrate the rigor of the course; for example, a project, lab or writing prompt requiring students to demonstrate various depths of knowledge.

Last, about seven percent of the time the HSR staff will render a decision of not approved. If a course is given an RC5, RC11, RC12 or RC17 decision and your school would like to contest the outcome, your school can utilize the high school portal to upload the documentation listed above to address the reason for non-approval as indicated by the reason code.
After reviewing documentation submitted for courses with one of the reason codes noted (RC5, RC11, RC12, RC17 or RC8), the HSR staff may render a not approved decision based on the documentation. These decisions are communicated via email to the primary and secondary contact in the school’s account and include an explanation of the decision.

When scheduling classes, encourage your student-athletes to take courses already on your school’s NCAA approved core-course list. This eliminates any last-minute need to submit course titles for review. To encourage early awareness of NCAA initial-eligibility standards, student-athletes can register for a free Profile Page account, which can be transitioned to a paid certification account if needed. Students with a Profile Page account will receive information about the initial-eligibility requirements and helpful tips from the NCAA Eligibility Center. Students only need the paid certification account if they intend to play collegiate sports at the Division I or Division II level. Students wanting to compete at a Division III institution are not required to have an academic certification account. International student-athletes attending a Division III school will need to create an amateurism-only certification account. There are registration fee waivers available for those who qualify.

Student-athletes should make the college decision that is best for them both academically and athletically. A “qualifier” status from the NCAA Eligibility Center does not mean they are admitted to the college or university recruiting them. Student-athletes still need to apply to the schools that are recruiting them. School counselors should encourage them to consider both athletic and academic opportunities at the schools and ask questions of the coaching staff and admissions staff. While the initial-eligibility process can be confusing to high schools and students, we are happy to answer questions; parents and student-athletes should call 877-262-1492 and high school representatives should call 877-622-2321.

Kaylen Overway is assistant director of high school review and Amy Routt is associate director of high school review with the NCAA Eligibility Center.