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N.C.A.A. Adopts Stiff Standards for Student-Athletes

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ANAHEIM, CALIF.--High-school athletes hoping to continue their playing days at four-year colleges and universities will have to meet tougher academic eligibility requirements beginning in the 1995-96 school year.

Meeting at their annual convention here last week, the members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association handily approved the new requirements in an effort to boost the academic preparation of student-athletes and to spur secondary schools into improving their academic instruction.

Students in their first year of high school this year will be the first affected by the new requirements.

"These standards are minimal and achievable, and a student who makes a 2.0 [grade-point average] can make a 2.5," said Thomas K. Hearn, president of Wake Forest University and a member of the N.C.A.A.'s Presidents Commission, which sponsored the proposals.

He added: "It is not an exaggeration to say that the nation is watching to see if this association [is joining the call to] raise academic standards."

But in making the changes, the association faced charges by critics that the standards were not based on conclusive research, were offered hastily to combat the public's low opinion of intercollegiate athletics, and would disproportionately affect minority and low-income students. (See Education Week, Jan. 8, 1992.)

One such critic, Georgetown University Athletic Director Francis X. Rienzo, withdrew a proposal to make more modest changes in the eligibility requirements and asked the Presidents Commission to withdraw its proposal. Under the new standards, "the road to academic reform will be covered with the bodies of a lot of socioeconomically deprived individuals," Mr. Rienzo said, "and it's unfortunate that the Presidents Commission is leading the way."

Black Colleges Dissent

Under the new standards, students will not be eligible for intercollegiate athletics in their freshman year unless they have a high-school grade-point average of 2.5 (on a 4.0 scale) in 13 core courses in mathematics, English, and natural or physical science.

In addition, they must continue to meet the current standard of achieving a combined score of at least a 700 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test or a 17 on the American College Testing Program examination.

Students who have lower G.P.A.'S may be eligible to participate in athletics if they get a higher test score. For example, a student with a 2.0 average must score a 900 on the combined S.A.T. Or a 21 On the A.C.T.

Freshmen who fail to reach the standards may be admitted and receive regular financial aid. They may not, however, receive an athletic scholarship for that year, and will lose a year of eligibility.

The current standard calls for a G.P.A. of 2.0 in 11 core courses. The members raised those standards in two separate votes.

Only 6 representatives voted against increasing the number of core courses high-school students must take, while 312 voted in favor. The new grade-point requirement was much more contentious, but it still passed by a vote of 249 to 72, with five abstentions.

In addition to Georgetown, dissenters included a number of historically black colleges and universities, Notre Dame University, Ohio State University, and the University of Tennessee.

Informing High Schools

R. Gerald Turner, the chancellor of the University of Mississippi and the chairman of the Presidents Commission, said the N.C.A.A. will coordinate through the athletic conferences a system for informing every high school in the country about the new standards and their impact.

Some high-school officials have complained that after the current requirements, called Proposition 48, were approved in 1983, too little information trickled down to the secondary level.

Mr. Turner said the standards represent "a defensible foundation for saying this is the minimum you need for graduating."

But opponents maintained that N.C.A.A. research did not conclusively support making the eligibility changes. In particular, charging that standardized tests are biased against minority and low-income students, critics questioned the exclusion of students with G.P.A.'s higher than 2.5, but test scores lower than 700 on the S.A.T. or 17 on the A.C.T.

William B. DeLauder, the president of Delaware State College, expressed disappointment that N.B.C.U. officials were not kept abreast of the progress made by the Presidents Commission as they formulated the new requirements, and said, "I just think there's a lack of sensitivity on the part of a lot of people at the convention, especially in regard to African Americans."

He asserted that blacks with low standardized-test scores graduate at five times the rate of whites with comparable scores.

During the meeting, officials from several dozen N.B.C.U.'s formed a working group designed to gain more attention from the N.C.A.A. leadership.

"Why hasn't there been any input from the H.B.C.L.'s?" asked Charles S. Farrell, who will act as the group's executive director. "In the future there will be."

The new requirements are among the most significant reforms to date in intercollegiate athletics. Richard Shultz, the N.C.A.A.'s executive director, urged the group's members to continue to push for reform within the organization to bolster the public image of intercollegiate sports and to fend off attempts at reform through state or federal legislation.

In addition to the rule changes approved last week, Mr. Shultz said the association's members must endorse a program of athletics certification by 1993.

Also last week, the N.C.A.A. raised the standards a student- athlete must meet to remain eligible once in college, and endorsed resolutions calling for studies of presidential control over athletics departments and the financial integrity of sports programs.

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