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NCAA Changes Rules

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If the high school class of 1995 looked anything like the class of 1992, far fewer college freshmen will be participating in Division I varsity athletics this school year.

A recently released study of 1992 college-bound high school seniors found that more than a third would not have met the National Collegiate Athletic Association's new eligibility requirements, the first stage of which went into effect in August. The new rules would hit minority students hardest, according to the U.S. Department of Education study. Only about half of African-American and Hispanic seniors in 1992 would have met the stricter guidelines.

Department researchers are encouraging schools to inform students about the changes. "By sharing this information,'' says Sharon Robinson, the department's assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, "perhaps fewer college freshmen will be excluded from college athletics if they plan ahead.''

The new rules, known as Proposition 16, toughen academic standards for freshmen athletes entering the nation's larger universities and colleges. Stage One of the changes increases from 11 to 13 the number of courses a student must pass in high school to participate in sports in an NCAA Division I school. It also requires students to take two academic electives.

In August 1996, Stage Two goes into effect. It requires students to take algebra and geometry and to use one elective for an additional English class. Stage Two also introduces a sliding scale that will combine a student's grade-point average and college-entrance exam scores to determine eligibility. For example, a student with a combined SAT score of 700 will need a GPA of 2.5, while a student with an SAT score of 900 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 course work outlined in Stage One, and an additional 10 percent fell short of the Stage Two requirements.

While supporters of the new guidelines have long sought greater academic accountability in college sports, others have argued that the rules will disproportionately exclude minorities. Charles Rooney, director of the Campaign for Fair Play in Student Athlete Admissions at the advocacy group FairTest, says Proposition 16 "ignores a large body of data showing that arbitrarily mandating higher test scores is not the same as admitting capable students.''

FairTest, he says, supports an alternative proposal--submitted to the NCAA by the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in August--which would not rely so heavily on test scores. Under that plan, prospective athletes at Division I schools would have to achieve a 2.25 grade-point average to participate. Test scores could only help a student. If, for example, an athlete earned an 800 on the SAT, he or she could qualify with a 2.0 GPA. NCAA officials have said the association will consider the alternative proposal at its annual meeting in January.

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