PINEHURST, N.C. -- Dabo Swinney knows the landscape of South Carolina. The Clemson football coach knows the impoverished areas along the I-95 corridor. Swinney has visited the small towns in the Midlands and Upstate where industry has departed.
Swinney has recruited players from underprivileged backgrounds, prospects with shaky prep academic records, and witnessed them mature and flourish at the college level. He says those experiences of inclusiveness shaped his position against an academic reform proposal Monday at the Atlantic Coast Conference's media days.
Last week, Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive proposed raising grade-point average requirements from 2.0 to 2.5 in 16 core high school classes for prospective student-athletes. It is an idea Swinney and a faction of other ACC coaches are against.
"I think that is crazy," Swinney said. "I have a real problem with that. To me, it is attacking a certain group: rural kids, kids at certain schools that don't have certain advantages that others do."
The issue is especially significant for Swinney, since South Carolina has some of the lowest performing public school systems in the country. The state's graduation rate has hovered around the bottom of the national rankings in recent years, and its grading scale can suppress grade-point averages.
Poor academic resumes already play a role in preventing some in-state players from attending schools like Clemson or South Carolina. New academic standards would further reduce the number of in-state players who qualify.
"We are not at the top of the list in education," Swinney said. "We are at the top of the list in unemployment. Yet, we have a grading scale that is as tough as there is in the country. ... 93-100 percent is an A. Heck, I made a lot of 90s that are As. The problem is there are a lot of young men that are ineligible (in South Carolina) that would be eligible if they lived in another state."
Swinney does not know the specific number of the Division I-caliber football players who fail to qualify each year in South Carolina, but he believes the count is significant.
What effect would a 2.5 GPA requirement have on Swinney's 2011 roster?
"I'd have to go look, but I would think it would impact a lot of kids across the board at a lot of schools, and that's a shame," Swinney said. "Guys get motivated and come to college and do extremely well, and now they are off as good husbands and good fathers. (With increased standards) they would lose opportunities."
Swinney believes schools should have freedom in accepting prospects and then be held accountable for their academic progress through APR and other metrics.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said it "makes no sense" to raise academic standards at a time when tax bases are shrinking and educational funding is being cut at the K-12 level.
At ACC media days, N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said he is also against increased academic standards.
"I'm not a big guy on the NCAA legislating (who can attend college)," O'Brien said. "I think individual schools have a better ability to decide if kids can graduate from their schools. Schools should make the decisions."
Other coaches, including Boston College's Frank Spaziani and Randy Edsall at Maryland, back the idea of increased academic requirements.
"I'm all for making sure young men can come in and graduate," Edsall said. "For most players, your career is going to be over the day you get out of college football. The thing they need is that degree.
"Some people fail to recognize that."
As for other reform ideas, Swinney was against the proposal for multi-year scholarship agreements.
"I've never been a guy that is running people off," Swinney said. "There is no buyer's remorse. ... If he's a good citizen, if he goes to class and he's just not as good as we want him to be, well, that's our fault."
As for stipends, Swinney is concerned enhanced financial aid packages could favor schools in areas where the cost of living is higher.
"I think if you are going to do something for the players, and I'm all for that, there should be an across-the-board type of stipend," Swinney said. "It has to be equitable."