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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 20, 2006

UH policy change a major shift

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

With the University of Hawai'i-Manoa preparing to enact new, yet-to-be-announced academic policies for the recruiting, retention and eligibility of its athletes, one administrator suggested, "I don't think there is anything radical or really revolutionary in anything that is being proposed."

But that is to miss a key point of the exercise.

It isn't just what is happening, but who is driving it. What's really taking place here the administration and academics steering the course of athletic academic reforms is revolutionary. At least at UH.

Indeed, as Peter Nicholson, an English professor and faculty athletic representative told the Manoa Faculty Senate yesterday, "as obvious as it seems, that's a new idea for this campus."

Heretofore the athletic department has pretty much called its shots. Sometimes in a vacuum. A president might dig in his heels on non-qualifiers. Administrators might tighten up on junior college transfers. But, the athletic department usually got its way while academics were left to shake their heads when both should have been involved in calling the shots.

And, who knows, it might have stayed that way if not for the recent embarrassment of the NCAA's sanctions over UH's Academic Progress Rate deficiencies.

Two of UH's most visible sports, football and baseball, this year were ordered stripped of some of their scholarships, five from football (which has 85 overall) and 1.7 from baseball (which has 11.7) for failure to meet NCAA-mandated minimum benchmarks relating to academic progress, retention and graduation. Sixteen other teams either met mandatory standards or were not immediately subject to penalty.

Suddenly, talks that were said to have been going on for nearly two years between the administration and athletic department found double-time urgency. No more wait-'til-next-year.

Faster than you could say report to the dean's office, the football team announced it was releasing some players deficient in academic performance, sending others to the sideline for spring practices until grades improved and requiring walk-ons to have at least a 2.5 grade point average to be considered for scholarships.

The reality was it was time past time, really for academics and athletics to really team up on a comprehensive plan to serve the best interests of the athletes and the school.

"It was time to expand the lines of communication and to actually pay more attention and the chancellor (Denise Konan) has done that," said Neal Smatresk, Manoa vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Nicholson told the Faculty Senate that while the sanctions registered a "low-water mark" for Manoa, the change they are likely to bring could also signal a significant turnaround for the school. And, that would be revolutionary.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.