The Gophers football team’s top recruit, running back Jeff Jones from Minneapolis Washburn, remains academically ineligible, and his status for the upcoming season is in doubt.

Jones had one final chance to qualify for his scholarship via his ACT score, but his improvement on a June 14 test wasn’t enough. He improved on some sections but not his overall score, Washburn coach Giovan Jenkins said Monday. “The improvement wasn’t enough to make it a done deal,” Jenkins said.

Jones now has to try to qualify by raising his grade-point average. He is retaking two classes this summer at Washburn that could replace two of his worst grades from high school, but it’s uncertain if this will raise his GPA enough to qualify.

The NCAA uses a sliding scale that combines GPA and test scores to determine eligibility. Jones has had a high enough ACT score to qualify, but he needed an even higher score to balance a lower GPA. Washburn’s summer school session ends July 10. The Gophers, still hoping their prize recruit can join the program later this summer, will be awaiting word from the NCAA Eligibility Center.

For Jones, Plan B is to go to Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs for the two seasons required for nonqualifying incoming freshmen, and earn the associates’ degree needed to gain NCAA Division I eligibility.

But a new option has emerged ahead of Plan B. Call it Plan 1A.

People familiar with Jones’ situation have said he could still enroll at Minnesota this fall as a student, not a student-athlete. If he’s admitted, he wouldn’t be on scholarship, so he would need financial aid. He wouldn’t be eligible to be part of any team activities until at least 2015.

To gain 2015 eligibility, Jones would need to finish at least 24 university credits by the end of the 2015 summer session, with at least a 2.0 GPA.

Rick Allen, a former compliance director and founder of, said such a scenario is permissible under NCAA rules. Allen said such an athlete would have three years of eligibility but could have a fourth year added if he was at least 80 percent finished with his degree entering his fifth year of college.

“His first year at the school would have to be spent as if he was a nonathlete and just another member of the student body,” Allen said. “Most athletes don’t go that route because they don’t want to have a year where they’re not eligible to practice. Most want to go to junior college where they can continue to play.”

If Jones went to junior college for two years, he would not be tethered to Minnesota and could be recruited again by other schools. ranked Jones as the nation’s seventh-best running back on national signing day in February. As a senior, he had 1,525 yards rushing, 493 yards receiving and scored 42 touchdowns. But it’s possible Jones would have redshirted this year anyway. The Gophers already had strong running back depth going into this season, with seniors David Cobb (1,202 yards last year) and Donnell Kirkwood (926 yards in 2012), junior Rodrick Williams and redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards.