Chronicle of Higher Ed
Tuesday, March 31, 1999

NCAA Wins Stay of Ruling That Barred Use of Test Scores in Eligibility


A federal appeals court in Philadelphia gave the National Collegiate Athletic Association some breathing room Tuesday in the association's race to come up with new academic standards for freshman athletes.

Without issuing an explanation, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit voted 2 to 1 to grant the N.C.A.A. a stay of a district-court judge's ruling that found that the association's use of standardized-test scores in its academic requirements discriminated against black students. The N.C.A.A. had made an emergency appeal to the appellate court last week after Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter refused to stay his own March 8 ruling. The stay is in effect pending the association's appeal of the decision to the Third Circuit.

Under Proposition 16, which went into effect in 1996, athletes must achieve certain scores on the SAT or ACT in combination with certain grade-point averages in 13 high-school core courses. An athlete with a grade-point average of 2.5 must score 820 (of a possible 1,600) on the SAT or 68 (of a possible 144) on the ACT, while a player with a grade-point average of 2.0 must score 1,010 on the SAT or 86 on the ACT. The academic guidelines were designed to insure that colleges and universities in Division I of the N.C.A.A. recruited only those athletes with a realistic chance of earning a degree.

Judge Buckwalter ruled that the cutoff scores used by the N.C.A.A. discriminated against black athletes and that the association had other standards it could employ to raise graduation rates for athletes. His ruling left the N.C.A.A.'s eligibility standards in question less than a month before the spring signing period for athletics scholarships begins on April 7.

In ruling that the requirements had a disproportionate effect against black athletes, the judge also ruled that the N.C.A.A. is subject to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it functions as the controlling authority over college athletics programs, which receive federal funds. N.C.A.A. officials have said they plan to appeal that portion of the judge's ruling as well as the narrower finding of discrimination in initial-eligibility standards.

"The stay issued by the Court of Appeals does not alter the district court's ruling on the merits of this case," said Adele P. Kimmel, a lawyer with Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, which has been representing the plaintiffs in the case. "The granting of the stay means that the student-athletes injured by the N.C.A.A.'s discriminatory rule will have to wait for the appeal to be resolved before they can obtain the relief to which they are entitled."

The Board of Directors of Division I of the N.C.A.A. will meet before the end of the week to decide its next step, said Charles T. Wethington Jr., president of the University of Kentucky and a member of the board.

"Obviously, the stay was something the N.C.A.A. wanted to have happen," he said. "The good news is that it gives us some time to work on initial-eligibility standards. That work is already under way, but we certainly would have been under some time constraints if the stay had not been granted."

The N.C.A.A.'s Academics/Eligibility/Compliance Cabinet has been reviewing possible changes to eligibility standards since last summer and is considering three basic alternatives to Proposition 16. Two of the options would lower the minimum SAT requirement, while the third would do away with the cutoff score altogether and allow for a full extension of the sliding scale. Had the Third Circuit failed to grant the stay, the N.C.A.A.'s Division I Board of Directors was considering imposing one of the three proposals or a variation on them before the beginning of the spring signing period, according to Graham Spanier, president of Pennsylvania State University and chairman of the board.

The appellate court did not specify a time period for the stay, but Ms. Kimmel speculated that the appeal would proceed on an expedited basis.

Suggs, Welch. "NCAA wins stay ruling that barred use of test scores in eligibility." Chronicle of Higher Education. 31 Mar. 1999. . For Fee$$