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Schools Said Uninformed on Sports Rule

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Less than eight months before its controversial new rules governing freshman eligibility for intercollegiate sports take effect, the National Collegiate Athletic Association may have yet more problems on its hands involving those most affected by the rules--high-school athletes and their advisers.

As the powerful athletics group convenes its annual meeting next week, there are indications that high-school officials are surprisingly ill-informed about the new 6rules--which will affect freshmen at several hundred of the nation's most athletically competitive universities starting next August--and that the ncaa has inadequately coordinated its planning for the changes with secondary-school leaders.

The extent of the precollegiate information gap was apparent at a recent Louisville, Ky., meeting of collegiate academic advisers. Some participants said that while high-school principals and counselors in their regions were aware generally of the stricter eligibility standards, they lacked sufficient knowledge of the details to ensure that students met them.

"Lots of people are just learning about all there is to the rule," said Joseph R. White, academic adviser to athletics at Clemson University.

Information from the ncaa, he said, was not sent in time for coaches and counselors to prepare students who will be affected next fall and the following year.

The governing board of the American School Counselor Association plans to review the rule at a meeting later this month. But according to Frank Burtnett, assistant executive director of the larger 4American Association for Counseling and Development, of which the aacd is a part, the scrutiny may come too late.

"I have a feeling we should have looked at this last January," Mr. Burtnett said.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Secondary School Principals has criticized the ncaa for a lack of coordination with the nation's high schools.

The association's executive director, Scott Thomson, charged in a November letter to the ncaa that the association had erroneously claimed nassp participation in the development of a new "Student-Athlete Information Form" to be completed by high-school administrators.

Mr. Thomson called the ncaa form an "unnecessary and redundant" paperwork burden and said that the principals' group could not encourage secondary schools to cooperate in its completion.

The eligibility rule, commonly known as Proposition 48, was passed in January 1983. But its implementation was delayed for three years, in part, said ncaa's assistant executive director, Ted C. Tow, to give high schools adequate time to adjust to the new requirements.

The rule requires freshman athletes enrolled at Division I institutions--those which place the most emphasis on intercollegiate athletics--to have maintained a 2.0 grade average in their high-school work and to have received a score of at least 700 on the combined Scholastic Aptitude Test or 15 on the American College Testing Program's examination.

In addition, the athlete's high-school coursework must have included 11 specific college-preparatory courses.

The ncaa will be considering three modifications of Proposition 48 next week: one that would "ease in" the 2.0 grade requirement over three years, and two others that would eliminate the test-score requirement.

But regardless of the vote on these modifications, the curricular requirement of 11 core courses will be effective for freshmen entering after August 1986.

Freshman athletes who fail to meet Proposition 48's standards may gain eligibility if they pass 24 semester-hours of coursework before the next season.

The ncaa does not have a precise estimate of how many students will be affected by Proposition 48, said Jamie McCloskey, the group's legislative assistant. But, he said, there are 283 Division I schools, and the rule applies to all varsity intercollegiate squads.

Proposition 48 has been hotly debated since its passage, but until now the dispute over its impact has largely been confined to college coaches and presidents, some of whom have charged that the tightened standards will discriminate against minority students.

Now, on the eve of its implementation and following two years of planning, discontent has spread to the precollegiate ranks. And here, some say, confusion and misinformation may not only threaten the rule's smooth implementation but also cost some high-school athletes a year of playing eligibility.

Some observers, such as Clemson's Mr. White, point out that it is already too late for high-school juniors and seniors who lack the required coursework to complete it.

Yet, in interviews, many high-school coaches seemed uncertain or unaware of the rule's specifics.

Donald Sparks, director of the National Federation Interscholastic Coaches Association, for example, expressed the belief that when Proposition 48 goes into effect this fall, it will apply only to 9th graders, who will then have four years to comply with its requirements. "Coaches are taking a wait-and-see attitude," he said.

Yet, according to the ncaa, this year's graduating seniors must comply with the new academic requirements.

The federation, whose membership includes high-school coaching associations in every state, is a key vehicle through which the ncaa communicates with high-school coaches.

Late Notices

But in the two years since Proposition 48 was passed, the ncaa has sent only two formal notices to high schools about the new requirements.

The first, a letter and brochure describing the bylaw, was sent to every high-school principal in the country some 16 months after the standards were adopted.

A second letter, giving details of the curricular requirements, was sent last October to the same 20,000 schools, along with the disputed Student-Athlete Information Form, which requires schools to list the core courses taken and grades received for all senior athletes entering Division I colleges.

One reason for confusion over the requirements, said those attending the Louisville meeting of academic advisers, is the lack of specificity in the first ncaa mailing.

Mathematics, for example, was listed as two of the 11 core courses, but was not further defined, according to Mr. White.

On the basis of the first letter, he said, some coaches had assumed that general mathematics courses would be acceptable. But the October letter stated that a math course was acceptable only if 30 percent of the coursework was algebra or geometry.

Verification Questions

The course-survey form sent with the October notice, in addition to prompting a clarification and rebuke from the nassp, raised the thorny issue of grade and course verification.

The information form asks schools to list separately all English, mathematics, science, social-science, and other "academic courses designed to prepare students for college"--a requirement Mr. Thomson, in his letter to John R. Davis, the ncaa president, called not only time-consuming but costly and inefficient.

"It would be equally as effective and much more efficient," wrote Mr. Thomson, "to identify core courses on the regular transcript rather than by completing an entirely separate form requiring considerable hand work in an era of computer efficiency."

But in addition, as Mr. Burtnett pointed out, because in some cases what is acceptable coursework may not be clear, the burden of decisionmaking may fall unfairly on school counselors, who are the staff members most frequently called upon to supply colleges with student information.

"Somewhere along the line," he said, "the interpretation of what is an acceptable science lab has to be made, and it will probably be the counseling office that does it."

Counselors support strict academic-eligibility standards, Mr. Burtnett said, but determining who bears the ultimate responsibility for verifying student coursework merits further study.

The ncaa's Mr. Tow said he did not doubt that "there will be a lot of paperwork," but added that if such paperwork is not "grievous," then it falls within the high school's accepted role.

"Only the high school knows the content of a math course--if it is really a college-prep course," he said.

The ncaa official also expressed confidence that the implementation of the new eligibility requirements would run smoothly.

"Some will be caught unprepared," he said, "it's normal for a rule change--it's like when they lower the speed limit. Some will not prepare and will get caught speeding." But each year that the new rules are in effect, Mr. Tow predicted, there will be fewer non-qualifiers.

But Clemson's Mr. White foresaw a difficult first year for Proposition 48--and for those responsible for informing students of its stipulations. He said he expects litigation in some cases, if athletes are declared ineligible to compete after following the advice of their high-school coaches and counselors.

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