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  News 06/06/02

Tougher NCAA rules force USU athletes to hit the books hard

By Julie Ann Grosshans

Jessenia Abrego did not graduate high school. Despite this minor setback, the senior gymnast is on the verge of earning a degree in Liberal Arts and Science from Utah State University.

The 4-foot-11 Aggie from Las Vegas came to USU five years ago as a Proposition 48 athlete.

Utah State gymnastics Head Coach Ray Corn said Abrego did not fulfill graduation and SAT score requirements in order to compete immediately. Because of this, she sat out her first year and paid for her own education.

"Gymnastics motivates me and school really doesn't," Abrego said. "It's been really hard for me here at Utah State. There have been tons of times when I just wanted to give up because school was so hard for me."

She said she stuck with school because her teammates and coaches always encouraged her.

Although Abrego's story may sound unique, she is not alone.

In 1983 the NCAA passed Proposition 48. This mandated student-athletes to reach certain academic eligibility requirements in order to compete for Division I colleges.

Under Proposition 48, student athletes are required to have a minimum SAT score of 700, or an ACT score of 17, and a minimum GPA of 2.0 in at least 11 courses in core classes, according to the NCAA Web site.

Things became a little tougher when delegates to the 86th NCAA Annual Convention passed Proposition 16.

According to the website, the proposition came in two stages, the first going into effect Aug. 1, 1995.

Under the first stage, the number of required courses was increased from 11 to 13 and two academic electives were added. According to the Web site, SAT/ACT and GPA requirements did not change.

In the second stage, which went into effect Aug. 1, 1996, one of the academic electives was moved to English. This meant four years of English were required instead of three. The SAT/ACT and GPA requirements also changed in 1996, according to the website. A sliding scale combining SAT/ACT scores and GPA in at least 13 core classes was instituted.

The website used the example of a student athlete with a SAT score of 700 (ACT of 17) needing a GPA of at least 2.5 to meet eligibility requirements.

Because Abrego did not meet the NCAA eligibility requirements, she earned her GED through Utah State University. She will be the first member of her family to graduate from college.

"It's a lot of pressure," Abrego said. "I really want to [graduate] for my family and for myself. I know my parents will be so proud once I do graduate from college."

Along with Abrego's parents, Gregorio and Ana, the NCAA has seen an increase of student-athlete graduates since the creation of Proposition 48. A study conducted by the NCAA in 1997 said student athletes entering school between 1983 and 1989 graduated at a higher rate than non-athlete students at Division I schools offering athletic scholarships. The study also showed the enrollment of minority students as having increased, although it had previously fallen after the imposition of Proposition 48.

The study by the NCAA only included schools offering scholarships, excluding programs such as in the Ivy League, according to a release on the NCAA website.

"For this study we wanted the data on student athletes and the general student body to be from an identical group of institutions," said NCAA Assistant Director of Research Todd A. Petr.

Petr said the school that did not offer scholarships only contributed information on its general student body. According to the release, a prime focus of the study was to address the concerns over the potential effects of Proposition 48 on minority students. It was predicted that an increase in graduation rates would occur among minority groups but lower enrollment rates right after the legislation went into effect.

To demonstrate the point, the website release recorded that African-Americans held 27.3 percent of entering student athletes in 1985, the year before Proposition 48 started. The level dropped down to 23.6 percent the following year but by 1989 the entering class was back up to 25 percent.

Abrego is a member of the Hispanic community. Other minority groups showed no effect on enrollment rates, according to the website.

It is clear gymnastics comes easy to Abrego.

Aside from the obvious academic struggles Abrego faced, Corn said she had her high and low marks as an Aggie gymnast.

When she first came to Utah State, Abrego came in with an injured knee. She was rehabilitating from a torn ACL, Corn said.

During her second season of competition another bombshell came. Abrego injured her other knee and tore the ACL.

Her senior campaign was one to remember, though.

"This last year was just an absolute brilliant year for her," Corn said.

The season marks of 9.850 on vault and 9.925 on floor tie her for fourth all-time in Utah State history, as well as holding the 10th best all-around score (39.250). At the same time she was struggling with history in the classroom, as she studied topics like colonial America and 19th century presidents.

Abrego said she would miss gymnastics. She will not miss sitting in a classroom.



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