Report of the McIntosh Commission on Fair Play in Student-Athlete Admissions

December 1994

The members of the McIntosh Commission for Fair Play in Student-Athlete Admissions (see end of document for names and affiliations) strongly endorse a system of athletic eligibility rules which simultaneously supports academic excellence and equitable access to higher education.

Based on a thorough analysis of more than a decade of research by independent investigators and the NCAA itself, we conclude that the NCAA's Initial Eligibility Requirement, commonly known as Proposition 48, has undermined the Association's self-professed goals of high-performance standards, a level playing field, and academic integrity.

Prop. 48, Prop. 42, Prop. 16 and all similar proposals are flawed by their unethical reliance upon arbitrary test score cut-offs instead of genuine measures of capacity to do college work. Simply put, higher test scores are not the same as higher academic standards.

Rather than increasing standards, Proposition 48 has increased discrimination by excluding large numbers of otherwise-qualified African American athletes (and, based on test score distributions, Latinos, females and low-income Whites as well) who would have gone on to graduate. Proposition 16 would make this situation worse by locking out even more students who would have been successful if they had been allowed to enroll.

Proposition 48 and current proposals to make it even more restrictive, such as Proposition 16, are based on a series of faulty premises and erroneous conclusions. Particularly troublesome is the fact that NCAA leaders have ignored data from their own research - including the current Academic Performance Study - which clearly demonstrate that requiring higher test scores is not the same as admitting better qualified students who are more likely to graduate.

The adoption of such fundamentally flawed proposals does not promote, but actually interferes with, the educational progress of thousands of student athletes. As an alternative, we recommend a system which will truly address both academic excellence and equitable access.

Our findings are grouped into three areas: academic integrity and ethical concerns; personal and social cost-benefit considerations; and data analysis issues. They are followed by our recommendations.


The NCAA's own research shows that prior to Proposition 48 the overall graduation rate for student-athletes was similar to nonathletes. On this measure, athletes were already satisfying the academic standards of their respective colleges and universities without NCAA intervention.

Because the NCAA entrance requirements shift the decisions for eligibility from the educational record to as few as one or two questions on a test, the NCAA procedures act to degrade the importance of college performance and thus lower the genuine academic standards.

The use of cut-off scores on any measure is a questionable practice, exaggerating the importance of small score differences (a 10 point gap on the SAT, for example, may result from only one additional item answered correctly. This is a particular problem for a test like the SAT which has a margin of error between 60 and 70 points.

The NCAA's procedures preempt the authority of academic officials, boards of trustees, and state legislatures to set individual institutional policies on student access to funds and resources.

Imposing a "one-size-fits-all" eligibility Policy for the wide range of institutions within the NCAA is not supported by the data. NCAA policies contradict and undermine the mandates of many member institutions.

According to the NCAA's own research, Proposition 48 has eliminated a substantial number of students who would have graduated had they been allowed to enroll. Forty-five percent of otherwise-qualified African American students were eliminated compared with 6% of White students.

As early as January, 1983, just after Proposition 48 was first adopted, the NCAA was informed of the rule's disparate impact on African Americans and women via a letter from Gregory Anzig, president of the Educational Testing Service (ETS). This was confirmed by a NCAA research report in 1984. Despite these findings, the rule was continued.

Proposition 16 would increase this discrimination. An even higher percentage of qualified students would be eliminated by the new rule, and the disproportionate impact on African American students would increase. Though minorities would experience a disparate impact, between two-thirds and three-fourths of the students newly disqualified by Proposition 16 will be White.

The NCAA's Academic Performance Study (APS) recognizes that a conjunctive rule (i.e. requiring both GPA and test score minimum) has no demonstrated empirical basis for use, and there is no literature documenting its validity. Yet, the NCAA has adopted just such a rule.

Proposition 48's grade point average (GPA) cut-off of 2.0 is proportionately much lower (when compared with the average GPA) than is the test-score cut-off of SAT 700/ACT 17 relative to average SAT and ACT scores. Thus, with a conjunctive rule in place, students are much more likely to be eliminated by the test score requirement before GPAs are even taken into account. For many students, the test score alone becomes the defacto sole criterion.

The NCAA's own researchers found that the "use of a fixed minimum on any single indicator is not psychometrically sound," but this conclusion was ignored in Propositions 48 and 16.

A National Academy of Sciences report warns, ". . . the undoubted effect of imperfect prediction when social groups have different average test scores is to place the burden of prediction error on the shoulders of the lower scoring group. Is this fair? In the final analysis, we think not."

It is a mathematical fact that "raising standards" on a predictor variable such as a test score is not the same as raising standards on a criterion such as graduation rates.

While the development of more stringent eligibility criteria for athletes might raise graduation rates by excluding students with more educational disadvantages, the attainment of this goal by such means is morally questionable since a significant percentage of excluded students would have graduated had they been allowed to enroll.

The NCAA President's Commission and Council unaccountably rejected the recommendations of their own Academic Requirements Committee which proposed adopting a true sliding scale which would allow students with higher grades to be eligible for athletics and scholarships with test scores lower than SAT 700 or ACT 17.


There is no evidence to support the assumption held by many supporters of Proposition 48 and Proposition 16 that the long-term benefits from the rules outweigh the short-term harm they cause.

Recent U.S. Census Bureau findings from the current population survey demonstrate that being denied an opportunity to obtain a four year degree reduces an individual's lifetime income by about half a million dollars, even for those graduates with modest academic skills.

Analyses of the same data indicate that each year of post-secondary schooling beyond high school has a positive impact on earnings. Thus, even students who do not graduate gain from the college experience.

Proposals to tighten academic eligibility requirements even further, without accompanying policies to improve high school preparation of prospective athletes, will further curtail access to college, especially for underrepresented groups.


Flaws in the Data Analysis Working Group (DAWG) research and inconsistencies with other studies on college admissions tests may understate the negative impacts of Proposition 48 and 16. For example:

There is a substantial problem with missing data. In these cases the DAWG filled in or extrapolated from existing data. This may skew their results and weaken their conclusions.

The relatively high level of SAT-score prediction of graduation found by the DAWG contradicts a well-established body of research, including the test-maker's (M) own studies, demonstrating that only a very small percentage of the difference in graduation rates can be explained by test scores.

The DAWG fails to note that their own data indicate that adding the test score component, while not appreciably increasing the quality of graduation prediction, dramatically increases the number of otherwise qualified African American students ruled ineligible and increases the number of unqualified Whites declared eligible.

The DAWGs reports recognize disparate impact on females from Proposition 16 and 48, but inexplicably fail to provide data regarding the magnitude of that impact,

The impact of Proposition 48 and Proposition 16 on other groups including Latinos and low-income students from all racial backgrounds was ignored by the DAWG. However, based on well-established research about test score distributions. the negative consequences for these groups are likely to be similar to those for African Americans.

Some members of the McIntosh Commission are concerned that, although no data manipulation is evident in their reports, the apparent ties of several DAWG researchers to "Beyondism" raises serious issues about the NCAA's judgment in selecting such a team 'Beyondism" is a philosophy and organization which, despite the lack of scientific evidence, believes that certain population groups are inherently less intellectually able than others.


Rescind Proposition 16 because it is not supported by the NCAA's own data, violates the recommendations of the Association's own researchers, and excludes a far greater proportion of qualified minorities than qualified whites.

Oppose "partial qualifier" provisions that still depend on test score cut-offs.

Stop using a test score requirement to eliminate students from eligibility for scholarships and varsity competition since no test has been validated for this purpose.

Restore the practice of barring all first year students from varsity eligibility, if underpreparation and exploitation of entering athletes is indeed a valid issue.

Encourage member schools to invest in getting all students, including athletes, up to speed through high-school-to-college transition programs and mentoring.

Continue monitoring the academic performance of student athletes with regard to retention, grade point averages, course work completion, and graduation rates.

Allow individual institutions, not the NCAA. to determine their own academic standards consistent with their individual ethical and academic aims.


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Lang, E.L. & Rossi, R.J. "Understanding Academic Performance: 1987-1988 National Study of Intercollegiate Athletes." Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, April, 1991.

NCAA Research Reports 90-01 to 93-05, Overland Park, KS:NCAA, 1990-1993.

Sedlacek, W. & Adams-Gaston, J. "Predicting the Academic Success of Student-Athletes Using SAT and Noncognitive Variables," paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, April, 1991.

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Walter, T.L., Smith, D.E.P., Miller, S.D., Hoewy, G., & Wilhelm, R. "Predicting the Academic Success of College Athletes," Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, Vol. 58, No. 2. 1987.


Dr. Marshall Banks, Howard University
Coach David Cooks. Darien High School
Dr. Russell Gough, Pepperdine University
Dr. Gordon Harrington, University of Northern Iowa
Dr. William. M. Harris, Sr., University of Virginia
Dr. Jerry Hirsh, University of Illinois
Dr. Duane Jackson, Morehouse College
Dr. Barry Mehler, Ferris State University
Dr. Frederick A. Rogers, University of Illinois
Robert A. Schaeffer, National Center for Fair & Open Testing
Dr. Peter Schdnemann, Purdue University
Dr. Andrew Sum, Northeastern University
Dr. Howard Taylor, Princeton University
Dr. William Thompson, University of Virginia
Dr. Parnela Zappardino, National Center for Fair & Open Testing

* Affiliations are listed for identification purposes only

"Report of the McIntosh Commission of Fair Play in student-athlete admissions." Dec 1994.