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New NCAA Rules May Bench Some Athletes

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If the high school class of 1995 looks anything like the class of 1992, far fewer college freshmen will be able to participate in Division I varsity athletics this fall.

A recent study of 1992 college-bound high school seniors found that more than a third would not meet the National Collegiate Athletic Association's new eligibility requirements, which begin to take effect this school year.

Minorities fared worse than average in the U.S. Department of Education study: Only about half of black and Hispanic students would meet the stricter guidelines.

Researchers said the results should encourage schools to alert students to the changes. "By sharing this information, perhaps fewer college freshmen will be excluded from college athletics if they plan ahead," said Sharon P. Robinson, the department's assistant secretary for educational research and improvement.

Meanwhile, some groups that oppose the stricter guidelines have continued to protest them. Last month, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference came up with an alternative proposal that the ncaa has said it will consider at its annual convention in January.

Stricter Guidelines

The new rules, known as Proposition 16, toughen academic standards for freshman athletes entering the nation's larger universities and colleges.

Stage 1 of the changes, which took effect Aug. 1, increases from 11 to 13 the number of courses a student must pass in high school to qualify for sports participation in the ncaa's Division I schools, and requires two additional academic electives.

Beginning in August 1996, Stage 2 will require students to use one of their electives for an additional English class, and to take algebra and geometry. Also, Stage 2 implements a sliding scale that will combine scores on college-entrance examinations with grade-point average to determine a student's eligibility. For example, a student with a combined Scholastic Assessment Test score of 700 or American College Testing Assessment of 17 will need a GPA of 2.5, while a student with an SAT score of 900 or ACT score of 21 can become eligible with a 2.0 gpa.

The federal study found that one-fourth of the 1992 college-bound seniors did not meet the standards for coursework outlined in Stage 1, while an additional 10 percent fell short of the Stage 2 requirements.

Since the ncaa passed Proposition 16 in 1992--replacing the 12-year-old Proposition 48--the new guidelines have drawn controversy. (See Education Week, Jan. 18, 1995.)

Supporters have demanded greater academic accountability in college sports, while some opponents have argued that the rules will disproportionately exclude minority students.

"Proposition 48 and Proposition 16 ignore a large body of data showing that arbitrarily mandating higher test scores is not the same as admitting capable students," said Charles Rooney, the director of the Campaign for Fair Play in Student Athlete Admissions at the Cambridge, Mass.-based advocacy group FairTest.

That group supports the latest proposal submitted to the ncaa by the Mid-Eastern conference last month, which does not rely so heavily on test scores. It would require prospective athletes at Division I schools to achieve a 2.25 grade-point average to participate. Test scores could only help a student: If the athlete earned an 800 on the sat, he or she could qualify with a 2.0 grade-point average.

Poor Students Worse Off

The study, released July 31 by the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics, found that 67 percent of white and Asian-American college-bound seniors who graduated in 1992 met the Proposition 16 requirements, compared with 46.4 percent of black students and 54.1 percent of Hispanic students.

Students from low-income families were the least likely of all groups to qualify. The study divided students into four categories based on family income and the education levels of parents. Only 42.3 percent of college-bound seniors from the lowest socioeconomic group met the new guidelines.

Currently, 86 percent of white and Asian-American students qualify for Division I athletics under Proposition 48, compared with 67.5 percent of Hispanics, 64.2 percent of African-Americans, and 58.8 percent of poor students.

The study found little difference in qualification between athletes and non-athletes.

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