When it was announced last week that Ole Miss running back Jordan Wilkins was ruled academically ineligible for the 2016 regular season, many perhaps picked up the old cudgel about student-athletes and bad grades. In Wilkins’ case, his ineligibility is far more complex than that.
"An appeal was filed with the NCAA for Jordan's reinstatement based on an administrative error but was denied this week," the university said in a release. Wilkins isn’t being held out because his GPA is too low. Instead, Wilkins unwittingly ran afoul of an NCAA policy that requires a student athlete to make specified progress toward earning their degree.
The Division 1 NCAA manual has very specific credit hours targets for athletes in their second, third and fourth years of school. Since degree programs differ wildly from program to program and among universities, the NCAA has set up percentage milestones for student-athletes’ degree completion standing to maintain consistency across the country. First year student-athletes need only be enrolled in a baseline number of credit hours, since they’ve completed effectively zero percent of their degree. The so-called “progress toward degree” (PTD) targets indicate what percentage of degree credit hours athletes must have completed at the start of each academic year.
In Wilkins’ case, since he’s starting his seventh semester of school, by NCAA rule he must have 60 percent of his degree completed.
As you might imagine, every athletics department in the country runs an army of academic advisors who can navigate each student-athlete’s degree progress. With Wilkins, someone in the administration apparently failed him by not ensuring that he was on pace to hit the required 60 percent threshold.
"The athletics department takes full responsibility and holds itself accountable when situations like this occur with our student-athletes,” the statement read. “We will support Jordan to the fullest during this time and look forward to seeing him return to the field."
The good news is that Wilkins could still gain eligibility in time to play in a bowl game (that they won’t play in because CHEATIN’ BEARS BOWL BAN). Any bowl game would be played well after the conclusion of the fall semester, and one assumes that Wilkins is currently registered for the necessary number of credit hours toward his degree. There’s nothing stopping him from practicing with the team in the interim.
Wilkins, for his part, took the news in stride and asked that no blame come crashing down on anyone but him.