Joe Filson, a guidance counselor at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, thought he knew just about every registration form and trick of the trade to help students get into four-year colleges.
Then last spring, his son John, a lineman on Anaheim Loara High's football team, received offers to play college football. The Filsons quickly discovered they had a lot to learn.
Like so many student-athletes, parents and even school counselors who consider themselves informed, the Filsons became aware that playing sports in college these days isn't simply a case of showing up and strapping on the helmet.
The lengthy eligibility process can be a labyrinth of NCAA regulations and individual college entry requirements that sometimes conflict with each other.
The process involves specific course requirements, core classes, qualifying test scores and, for those who desire to play Division I or II, registering with the Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse--which has the final, sometimes painful, word as to whether a student-athlete will play major college sports at all.
Slip up along the way and the chance of a lifetime may be lost.
"It was a time-consuming process. There's a real learning curve," Joe Filson said. "If you're a parent that has had two or three kids that, perhaps, have gone through this process already, you can gradually learn. But for a new parent, going through this can be bewildering."
John Filson eventually chose to play at Claremont-Mudd, a Division III school, because he liked the idea of attending a small college, but not before he hired a professional service to help guide him through the paperwork. These services, which have cropped up in the last 10 years or so, typically charge $300-$1,500 to promote and guide prospective college athletes.
But what if you can't afford that for a shot at your dream? Do your homework and don't wait to get started, experts say.
"You have to start thinking about this no later than your sophomore year in high school," said Jim Wachenheim, a former assistant football coach in charge of recruiting at the University of San Diego. He's also a representative of the Online Scouting Network, a company that provides help to prospective college athletes. "Way too many kids wait until the summer of their senior year [to plan for college]."
In a nutshell, to be eligible to play sports in college as a freshman, the NCAA requires the student be a high school graduate, have a grade-point average no lower than 2.0 on a 4.0 scale, a passing score on either the SAT or ACT, and passing grades in at least 13 "core" academic classes, such as math, science and English.
The necessary score on the SAT or ACT depends on the student's grade-point average. Someone with the minimum 2.0 GPA would need a minimum score of 1,010 on the combined verbal and math sections of the SAT, or a minimum 86 combined score on the four-part ACT. Whereas someone with a 2.5 or better GPA would need only an 820 on the SAT or a 68 on the ACT.
It is recommended that the tests be taken as early as possible after July 1 of what will be a student's junior year, and he should continue to take the tests to improve his score, or at least until he gets an acceptable score, said John Dempsey, a regional director for College Prospects of America. His company, for a fee, will help a prospective athlete look for scholarships as well as obtain and process the necessary forms and applications.
According an NCAA student handbook, students can take the SAT as often as they want and submit their best score on each section--verbal and math--no matter when they achieved it.
Different colleges have different entry requirements, and students should learn what those are.
No later than the fall of their senior year in high school, students must register with the Clearinghouse if they intend to play at the Division I or II level. For a one-time fee of $18, the Clearinghouse is supposed to collect records of the students' academic standing and forward that information to colleges where students have applied.
Begun four years ago and operated by a private company contracted by the NCAA, the clearinghouse has been criticized for slow and sometimes inept processing.
In perhaps its most famous case last spring, the clearinghouse invalidated the SAT scores of former Santa Ana Mater Dei basketball player Schea Cotton, who planned to attend UCLA, ruling that Cotton had improperly received special accommodations each of the three times he took the test. Cotton subsequently enrolled at St. Thomas More, a prep school in Oakdale, Conn.
According to Tustin Athletic Director Al Rosmino, who has guided star running back DeShaun Foster through recruiting paperwork, the definition and content of the 13 NCAA-required core classes isn't specific.