The NCAA Sliding Scale: How GPA And Test Scores Can Impact Eligibility


Understanding the NCAA Sliding Scale

Did you know that the NCAA has minimum academic requirements to compete, get a scholarship, practice, and be placed on a college team’s roster? The goal of these requirements is to ensure NCAA student-athletes are college-ready to increase college retention and graduation rates.

These academic requirements include a minimum special NCAA Core Grade Point Average (GPA), a minimum test score (SAT/ACT), and a specific number of NCAA-approved Core Courses – which can be different at each high school.

The minimum NCAA Core GPA and minimum test score (NCAA accepts your best subject scores regardless of what date they were earned) are plotted on the NCAA Division I (DI) and NCAA Divison II (DII) sliding scales to determine academic eligibility. Yes, DI and DII have different requirements.

What is the NCAA Sliding Scale?
The NCAA Sliding Scale refers to the way a student’s academic eligibility is measured. As a student’s Core GPA number goes up, a lower SAT/ACT score is required, and vice versa.

The sliding scale allows students who may not excel on standardized tests to show they are college ready through their school work (higher NCAA Core GPA). The higher your NCAA Core GPA, the lower your test score is allowed to be for qualifier status.

How Is Your NCAA Core GPA Calculated?
The differences between school GPA and NCAA Core GPA can be tricky to decipher… and even harder to calculate.

The NCAA Eligibility Center calculates Core GPA based only on the grades earned in the 16 NCAA-approved core courses that are completed during high school (within 32 semesters). The 16 core courses are chosen based on the subject area requirements and if more than the 16 required courses are taken, the NCAA will choose the courses where the best grades were earned in the required subject areas.

As seen in the real-life Honest Game CAREⓇ plan below, Student A has a School GPA of a 2.61, but their actual NCAA Core GPA is a 2.2 (below the minimum 2.3 needed for full qualifier status).

Students are often taken by surprise to learn that their NCAA GPA is significantly lower than their school GPA. In this case, Student A would have thought their NCAA GPA was well above the 2.3 minimum requirement based on their school GPA.NCAA Core GPA Example 1In another real-life example, Student B’s NCAA GPA is actually higher than their school GPA deeming them a qualifier. A potential college coach just looking at the school GPA would assume that they are a non-qualifier, when in fact, their NCAA GPA is well above the 2.3 minimum requirement.
NCAA Core GPA Example 2The main reason that school GPA and NCAA Core GPA differ is due to the grades you earn in courses that are not counted (below in the grey background in the example below) into your 16 NCAA-approved course units (below in the white background) as seen in the sample student’s Honest Game CAREⓇ dashboard below. If you are getting A’s in your non-approved courses, that will often result in a lower NCAA GPA than your school GPA. If you are getting F’s and D’s in your non-approved courses, that will often result in a higher NCAA GPA than your school GPA.

CARE NCAA Core Courses

NCAA DI Sliding Scale
The NCAA DI and DII use slightly different sliding scales to assess your academic certification. NCAA DI requires a minimum 2.3 core GPA for a qualifier, with a minimum 980 SAT or a 75 ACT sum score. The higher a core GPA is above a 2.3, the lower the required SAT/ACT sum score.

Honest Insight: The sliding scale has not been required for college freshmen enrolling for the first time in 2021-2022, 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 due to the COVID-19 waiver. At this time, the sliding scale is still in effect for high school classes of 2024 and beyond.

NCAA DI Sliding Scales for WebNCAA DII Sliding Scale
If you enroll full-time at an NCAA DII school, you must meet all academic requirements and earn an SAT or ACT score matching your core-course GPA on the Division II sliding scale to be eligible to compete. NCAA DII requires a minimum 2.2 core GPA for a qualifier, with a minimum 920 SAT or 70 ACT sum score on a specific DII sliding scale. Note, the sliding scale has not been required for college freshmen enrolling for the first time in 2021-2022, 2022-2023, and 2023-2024 due to the COVID-19 waiver. At this time, the sliding scale is still in effect for high school classes of 2024 and beyond.NCAA DII Sliding ScalesWhat Does it Mean to be an NCAA Qualifier?
After registering with the NCAA Eligibility Center and being added to a college’s Institutional Request List (IRL), the NCAA reviews all requirements and assigns each student an NCAA status of either a Full Qualifier (DI/DII), Partial Qualifier (DII), Academic Redshirt (DI), or a Non-Qualifier (DI/DII).

When deemed a Full Qualifier (DI and DII), you are academically eligible to practice, compete and receive an athletics scholarship during your first year of full-time college enrollment.

For Division II Partial Qualifiers, you may practice with your team at its home facility and receive an athletics scholarship during your first year of full-time college enrollment but you may not compete.

For DI Academic Redshirts, you may receive a scholarship and practice but may not compete in the first year of college. You must pass either eight quarter or nine semester hours in college to practice for the next term.

As a Non-Qualifier (DI), you may not receive a scholarship, practice or compete in your first year of enrollment at the DI college. If you can get into a college as a non-qualifier, you could attend for one year as a non-athlete (no athletic scholarship), and attempt to join the team in your second year. See NCAA DI sliding scale for test scores and NCAA core GPA requirements. A college may choose to apply for a waiver and the NCAA/NAIA may approve that waiver, however, this rarely happens.

What is the Difference Between a Combined SAT Score and an ACT Sum Score?
A combined SAT score is calculated by adding Reading and Math subscores. An ACT sum score is calculated by adding English, Math, Reading and Science subscores. The NCAA ACT sum score does not calculate a composite or average of the four subtests.

You may take the SAT or ACT an unlimited number of times before you enroll full-time in college. If you take either test more than once, the best sub-score from different tests is used to meet initial eligibility requirements.

What is a Good Score for the ACT and SAT?
There are a number of factors that go into deciding what a good test is.

First, consider academic eligibility for college sports. For the NCAA DI sliding scale, you should aim to get at least a 980 SAT or a 75 ACT sum score. If your NCAA GPA is between a 2.0 and a 2.3, you could qualify as an Academic Redshirt if your test score matches the sliding scale requirement. For example, a 2.0 NCAA GPA requires a minimum 1100 SAT or an 86 ACT sum score. For NCAA DII, if your NCAA GPA is above a 2.2, you should aim to get at least a 920 SAT or a 70 ACT sum score.

The next factor to consider for test scores is admissions. Many colleges have gone test-optional, however, college coaches will often still ask if you have a score to share. The purpose is to load your application with as much academic support as possible. Some colleges will have minimum requirements like a 1000 SAT or a 20 composite ACT. Some very selective admissions departments will require minimum requirements as high as 1350 SAT or 30 composite ACT.

Lastly, consider that many academic scholarships, financial aid, grants, or loans will factor in standardized test scores. For example, a certain test score may automatically qualify you for an additional $10,000 in merit aid, however, it all depends on the college policies and the scholarship requirements.

Improving Your ACT and SAT Scores
To improve your test scores, you’ll need to copy the structure you have for athletics: regular practices, scrimmages, games, and championships. Set aside time to do practice problems, and create a testing environment for a test scrimmage – meaning, take an entire test with a simulated clock and breaks. Take the official test more than once to set yourself up for success!

Does the NCAA Still Use the Sliding Scale?
In April 2022, the NCAA Eligibility Center decided to continue the COVID-19 Automatic Waiver Criteria and waived the standardized test score requirement for initial eligibility certification for students enrolling in college for the first time in 2022-2023 and 2023-2024.

Wondering how the waiver impacts student-athletes? Currently, students initially enrolling during those years only need to meet the GPA and NCAA Core credit requirements. They won’t need to submit test scores or meet a certain SAT/ACT score.

Even though a standardized test score is not necessary for the NCAA initial-eligibility certification process for those enrolling in college (in the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 academic years) – colleges and universities may still require test scores for admission. It is highly suggested to inquire about the specific college’s admissions standards. Additionally, some academic scholarships, financial aid, and grants or loans may factor into standardized test scores.

For student-athletes enrolling in college in Fall 2024 and beyond, it has been recommended by the NCAA Committee on Academics to remove the standardized test requirement for initial-eligibility certification, but it will not be finalized until the NCAA vote in January 2023.

NCAA SAT Requirements: Instructions on Sending Your SAT Scores to the NCAA
To have your SAT score sent directly to the NCAA Eligibility Center, log into your College Board Account and add code “9999” for the score to be sent to the NCAA Eligibility Center.

NCAA ACT Requirements: Instructions on Sending Your ACT Scores to the NCAA
To have your ACT score sent to the NCAA Eligibility Center, log in to the ACT website and add code “9999” for the score to be sent to the NCAA Eligibility Center.

How Honest Game Software Can Help Maintain Academic Eligibility
To simplify the eligibility process, Honest Game’s CARE® (College Athletic Report on Eligibility) provides an individualized report that includes an NCAA GPA calculator, NCAA credit tracking, and a clear view of a student-athlete’s academic eligibility status, as well as an interactive sliding scale specific to the student-athlete’s current NCAA GPA and test scores.

Watch the video about Honest Game’s CARE® below to see how you can move your GPA and test score up and down to set goals for academic redshirt qualification and full-qualifier clearance.

CARE® is downloadable and easy to share with parents/guardians, high school administrators, and college coaches to make sure everyone is on the same page before it’s too late.

Still have questions? Navigating the complex and changing NCAA rules can be a challenge, and Honest Game is here to simplify the process. Contact Honest Game to help take the guesswork out of academic eligibility for college sports.

By Joyce Anderson, Honest Game Co-founder and COO
Having served on the NCAA Eligibility Center High School Advisory Board and as the College Bound Student-athlete Advisor at Evanston Township High School, Joyce has advised more than 2,000 high school student-athletes on academic eligibility and recruiting.