Impact of NCAA reform on reclassifying

The reclassification movement has become a national trend this fall with elite prospects Andrew Wiggins, Noah Vonleh and Dakari Johnson all following Wayne Selden’s initial move from the Class of 2014 to 2013.

Now, Syracuse recruit Chris McCullough is the latest ESPN 60 prospect to investigate such a move.

The reclassification movement has roots in New England, where the nation’s pre-eminent post-graduate market makes it an annual issue. In recent years alone we’ve seen Vonleh, Selden, Nerlens Noel, Andre Drummond, Khem Birch and Alex Murphy all “reclassify back” (essentially adding a fifth year to their high school stay) early in their careers only to later “reclassify forward” or return to their original graduating class.

Reclassification has always been as much an academic issue as it has been an athletic one. Sure, some kids move back a class to gain a competitive advantage on the court, but many others do so in order to ensure they’ll get through the NCAA Eligibility Center.

The trend actually began several years ago when the NCAA started to crack down on post-graduate students who chose to attend prep school in order to rectify poor academic performance in their four years of high school.

When the NCAA changed its rules to allow post-grads to only add one core class to their transcript (or three if they had a diagnosed learning disability), some guessed it would cause irrevocable harm to the quality of prep school basketball.

The reality was something far different. Instead, the prep school market began to attract similar high-level talents, only at younger ages. Top prospects weren’t just taking a one-year hiatus to prep schools -- they’d actually come earlier in their high school careers, often reclassifying back a year upon arrival.

The most recent NCAA academic reform, which begins with the Class of 2016, clearly targets those students who fail to take academics seriously at an early age. In years past, the remedy for such prospects has been to ship them off to prep school. Now that will be much more difficult.

Not only do the new requirements raise the minimum core GPA from a 2.0 to a 2.3, they also mandate that 10 of the required 16 core courses for NCAA eligibility be completed by the beginning of a student’s senior year.

In other words, whereas prospects who failed to make the grade in their first two years of high school could previously load up on core classes in their last two years and potentially add three more during a post-graduate year, current high school freshmen and beyond will not have that luxury.

So will this latest reform finally do away with the reclassification trend?

Chances are, not exactly. If history holds true to form, the prep school movement could now just trickle down to even younger age groups. There’s plenty of evidence in New England already this season as top Class of 2016 prospects like Mustapha Heron (Wilbraham & Monson), Arkel Ager (Wilbraham & Monson), Tyonne Malone (Williston Northampton) and Ian Sistare (Northfield Mount Hermon) are already in the prep school ranks.

Surely we’re likely to see fewer prospects reclassify back in the latter years of high school. But if that means we see more prospects making those moves earlier in their careers, it is very possible those same prospects will later decide to move back to their original graduating class some three years later.

If that’s the case, the reclassification movement could very well be here to stay regardless of academic reform.