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NCAA Will Fight Test Score Ruling

Wednesday, March 10, 1999

By Doug Tucker

Sixteen years after Penn State football coach Joe Paterno told the NCAA, "We have raped a generation of black kids," a judge outlawed the solution Paterno championed, saying it was unfair.

Scrambling to deal with the latest twist in one of the most enduring controversies in college sports, the NCAA prepared to hurry into court today and ask for a stay of a decision by U.S. District Judge Ronald Buckwalter.

Buckwalter, ruling in favor of four black athletes, on Monday stopped the NCAA from using minimum test scores in freshman eligibility requirements. If the court does not issue a stay, chaos could result from 302 Division I schools setting their own standards. The controversy could even extend to the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments which tip off this week.

Many of the 64 teams in each tournament have athletes who are sitting out their freshman years because they failed to reach the requirements. As long as Buckwalter's ruling remains the law of the land, those players could play in the tournament without fear of penalty.

Elsa Cole, the NCAA's general counsel, said the NCAA would appeal "the entire ruling," while at the same time preparing new requirements that would meet the court's requirements and go into effect on an emergency basis.

"We are encouraged by the court's acknowledgment that the initial eligibility standards ... serve a legitimate educational goal," said Charles Wethington, president at Kentucky and head of the NCAA's executive committee.

"In addition, the judge has not precluded use of the SAT or ACT as a part of an initial eligibility rule. The challenge for the NCAA remains as it has always been: to develop standards to meet that goal."

Cole said Tuesday she expects a response on a request for a stay "within a day or two."

The rule, known as Proposition 16, required athletes to have a minimum score of 820 on the Scholastic Assessment Test regardless of their high school grades. The ruling did not rule out some use of the tests, which many educators have long said are racially and culturally discriminatory.

Its forerunner, Proposition 48, resulted from a tumultuous NCAA convention in 1983 when a group of reform-minded school presidents began pushing for toughened academic requirements. Paterno urged delegates to adopt the rule, including test scores, to stop schools from recruiting athletes they know are not prepared to do college work.

Without Proposition 16, the 302 Division I schools would be on their own in determining which freshmen would be academically eligible to play sports. Some administrators and officials worried that could create chaos.

"It means that there is no standard to guide the schools," Cole said. "Each school will have to decide itself whether a student can play the first year."

Buckwalter was hailed as courageous by Temple basketball coach John Chaney.

The test score requirement, Chaney said, was "a denial of opportunity and access for youngsters and targeted 80 to 90 percent black, Hispanic, poor and disadvantaged youngsters."

If upheld, the ruling might restore a lost year of eligibility to athletes like Temple senior guard Rasheed Brokenborough, who sat out his freshman year due to the SAT cutoff and ran up $15,000 in debt because he could not qualify for a scholarship that year, Chaney said.

"Who wouldn't like to get another year back?" said Brokenborough, who said that although he is graduating, he would use the additional year of eligibility to pursue graduate studies. "I only got to play three years of basketball and I'd like to come back a fourth year."

One of the Philadelphia plaintiffs, Leatrice Shaw, is now competing in track for the University of Miami as a junior, said her foster father, Robert Massie.

Though she practiced with the Miami track team as a freshman, she wasn't allowed to compete, said Massie, head track coach at Simon Gratz High School, where Shaw and fellow plaintiff Tai Kwan Cureton were high school stars.

Cureton was able to compete as a freshman by going to Wheaton College in Massachusetts, a Division III school where the SAT minimum did not apply.

"Tai Kwan was president of the Student Government Association (at Gratz) and president of the senior class, but he didn't have the SAT scores," Massie said. "Leatrice was a member of the National Honor Society. She took the test three times. She came up 10 points short."

Tucker, Doug. "NCAA Will Fight Test Score Ruling." Associated Press. 10 Mar. 1999. Published as: NCAA trying to halt judge's decision - Chaos could result if court doesn't act in The Deseret News 10 Mar 1999 online