Chronicle of Higher Ed
August 9, 1999

NCAA Will Keep Freshman-Eligibility Rules Despite Judge's Finding of Bias


The National Collegiate Athletic Association does not plan to change its eligibility requirements for freshman athletes, even though a federal judge has declared them to be racially discriminatory.

The N.C.A.A.'s Division I Board of Directors voted Thursday to leave intact Proposition 16, which uses a sliding scale of standardized-test scores and high-school grade-point averages to determine whether a first-year athlete can participate in college sports. Athletes must score at least 820 on the SAT or an average of 17 on the four ACT components to play as freshmen.

The association uses its eligibility requirements to try to insure that athletes benefit academically from being in college, and eventually graduate. But in March, in a lawsuit brought by several black athletes who had been disqualified under Proposition 16, a federal judge declared that the rules discriminated against black athletes, and that the N.C.A.A. had not proved that using the test-score criterion was a legitimate way to achieve its goal of raising the graduation rates of athletes. (See a story from The Chronicle, March 19.) Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter barred the N.C.A.A. from using the standards, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit granted a stay of the judge's ruling pending the appeals court's further review of the case.

After discussing the issue at their meeting on Thursday, the college presidents who make up the N.C.A.A.'s Board of Directors determined that there was "no compelling reason" to change the eligibility standards at this time, said Graham B. Spanier, president of Pennsylvania State University and chairman of the N.C.A.A.'s board.

He said that the Third Circuit had set a date of September 14 to hear oral arguments in the N.C.A.A.'s appeal of Judge Buckwalter's ruling, and that it was unlikely that the Third Circuit would rule in the case before the next meeting of the N.C.A.A. board, in October.

"I'm confident that we will ultimately prevail in the courts on the principles we've articulated as to the appropriateness of higher education setting its own standards," said Mr. Spanier. "One of those principles is the desire of our institutions to continue to use test scores in evaluating the readiness of our students, for athletics or admissions purposes."

In other developments, the Division I Board of Directors also endorsed the substance of the recommendations of an N.C.A.A. committee that has been studying basketball issues. Among other things, the panel proposed toughening academic standards for players, as well as rewarding teams that posted high graduation rates and penalizing teams whose players dropped out. (See a story from The Chronicle, July 30.) The board said it would send the report to other N.C.A.A. committees to develop formal legislation based on the panel's recommendations, and then would decide which specific rules changes to endorse.

At the same meeting, the Division II Presidents' Council announced that it would spend $250,000 next year to finance a matching grant program aimed at encouraging Division II colleges and conferences to hire more black and female athletics administrators.

Lederman, Douglas. "NCAA will keep freshman-eligibility rules despite judge's finding bias." Chronicle of Higher Education. 9 Aug 1999. For Fee$$