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Athletics Panel Reactivates To Push Eligibility Standards

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Washington

A commission founded to root out abuses in college sports has resurrected itself to block efforts to weaken academic-eligibility standards for freshmen.

The Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics announced last week that it was standing firmly behind Proposition 16, a tougher set of initial eligibility benchmarks that is scheduled to take effect next August.

Under Proposition 16, students wishing to compete will need a 2.5 grade-point average on 13 core courses and either a 700 on the Scholastic Assessment Test or a 17 on the American College Testing program.

Since last summer, however, several groups within the National Collegiate Athletic Association have recommended lowering the college-entrance-examination scores or G.P.A.'s, or a combination of both. The two criteria are commonly used by colleges to predict a student's academic success.

In large measure, the recommendations to dilute the standards resulted from criticisms that black student-athletes would be unfairly denied access to a college education.

The Knight commission disagreed.

The commission "has unbounded faith that all young athletes, including African-American athletes, will rise to meet the challenge of higher standards in the same way they have met challenges on the field," said the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, a co-chairman of the panel and the president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame.

No Swan Song

Formed nearly five years ago, the panel of academic, business, and government leaders issued three reports whose recommendations the N.C.A.A. seemed to embrace. When it held its last press conference 18 months ago, "we thought that would be our swan song," said Creed C. Black, the president of the Knight Foundation.

But commission members said last week that they began receiving inquiries from college presidents worried that efforts were under way to backslide on the eligibility measure.

"We felt it struck at the very heart of the reform movement," Mr. Black said.

The commission hired rand Corporation researchers to review N.C.A.A. data on student-athletes who started their college careers under the association's Proposition 48, which imposed tougher academic requirements.

Commission members said the data showed a slight dip in participation by black student-athletes immediately after Proposition 48 was enacted in 1982. But, graduation rates and numbers soon increased for all student-athletes.

That evidence "tells me clearly that students and student-athletes will tend to rise to the challenge if the expectations are high and lofty but realistic," said LeRoy T. Walker, a commission member and the president of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

The N.C.A.A. will vote on the proposed changes at its annual convention in January.

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