N.C.A.A. Mulls Stiff Standards for Student Athletes

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In an effort to further improve the academic success of college athletes and to answer critics of intercollegiate sports programs, members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association this week will consider several controversial proposals to impose stricter academic eligibility requirements on incoming student-athletes.

The proposals, which would take effect in 1995, build on the eligibility requirements, known as Proposition 48, that N.C.A.A. members approved in 1983 and put in place in 1986.

"There's no question that there will be some people who will not meet the new requirements," said Lorna P. Straus, a University of Chicago biology professor who chairs an N.C.A.A. committee that is cosponsoring the proposed changes.

"Yes, it's a tougher standard," she added, "but it's a tougher standard with a reason."

Supporters of the measures contend that the new standards would send a strong message to student-athletes, parents, and school systems that athletes need to be as successful in the classroom as they are on the court, track, or field.

"High-school athletes, when they're challenged, rise to the occasion," said Eve Atkinson, the athletic director at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. But, although the proposed requirements are considered to have a substantial degree of support among college and university representatives, observers said there would be several moves this week at the association's annual convention in Anaheim, Calif., to block approval of the new standards.

In particular, Francis X. Rienzo, the athletic director of Georgetown University in Washington, has been encouraging N.C.A.A. members to support a resolution delaying a vote on the proposals until the association can establish requirements based on formal research.

The association is in the midst of a 10-year study on the academic performance of athletes, including the effects of Proposition 48.

Should they fail to win the delay, Mr. Rienzo and representatives of other universities in the 10-school Big East Conference have said they will seek less dramatic modifications to the eligibility standards.

"I'm for standards that have their basis in reality, not politics," Mr. Rienzo told reporters recently. Under the proposed modifications, "we're going to raise the standards and everything's going to be unfair," he said. "I'm suggesting that we make appropriate standards to make things fair."

More Courses, Higher Average

Under dispute are proposals sponsored by the N.C.A.A.'s Presidents Commission and its academic requirements committee that would alter two components of the association's three-pronged eligibility standard.

The proposals would require student-athletes seeking to compete at N.C.A.A. schools to achieve a high-school grade-point average of at least 2.5 (on a 4.0 scale) in 13 core courses in the areas of English, mathematics, social science, and natural or physical science. The current standard under Proposition 48 is a 2.0 G.P.A. in 11 core courses.

The current requirement that students achieve a combined score of at least 700 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or an 18 on the American College Testing Program examination, would not change. Student-athletes with lower grade-point averages would become eligible if they achieved higher than minimum scores on the college-entrance exams.

In addition to having the support of the Presidents Commission--a panel of 44 presidents and chancellors of N.C.A.A. member institutions-and the academic-requirements committee, the proposals have been endorsed by the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, the College Board, the American College Testing Program, the National Association of College Admission Counselors, and the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

The 9 members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the 11-member Big Ten Conference, the 9-member Mid-American Athletic Conference, and the 11-member Southeastern Conference are co-sponsoring the proposal to increase the number of core courses required.

Ms. Atkinson of Lafayette College predicted that the core-courses proposal would pass easily, but she said that the measure to increase the required G.P.A. to 2.5 could have a tougher time.

High-School Officials React

While high-school coaches and counselors interviewed for this article generally said they supported tough academic standards for student-athletes, they also stressed that more care needs to be taken--especially by the N.C.A.A.--to assist those students in achieving academic success.

"If colleges and universities are interested in helping youngsters--I personally don't think they are--why don't they try some early-intervention programs?" said Edwina Beavers, a senior counselor at Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Chicago.

"If you're as interested in [an athlete] academically as you are athletically, then put your emphasis in helping him academically as well," continued Ms. Beavers, who said she advises as many as 40 high-school athletes a year, almost all of whom go on to participate in intercollegiate athletics.

Added Pete Pompey, the varsity basketball coach at Baltimore's Dunbar High School, which draws students from eight public-housing projects: "Speaking as a parent, a coach, and a teacher, I think that something has to be done to take the pressure off the kids in getting into school, and putting the pressure on them once they get there."

Mr. Pompey said preventing student-athletes from participating in sports during their first collegiate year would do just that.

He also suggested that the N.C.A.A. reduce its emphasis on standardized tests and allow students flexibility to have higher grade point averages and lower test scores.

"Kids are afraid, and they're afraid of failure," Mr. Pompey said. "The S.A.T. exam is an exam of exposure, not of knowledge."

Others suggested that the N.C.A.A. needed to better inform students, parents, and high-school counselors about eligibility requirements and what their individual responsibilities are in helping meet them.

Ms. Beavers said, "The people that were supposed to be trained or educated or phased in [when Proposition 48 went into effect], most of them didn't know what was happening."

Analyzing the Data

In making their recommendations to the intercollegiate-athletics association, the Presidents Commission and the academic-requirements committee pointed to an N.C.A.A. study outlining how the proposed new rules would have affected students who entered college in 1984 and 1985--before the onset of Proposition 48.

N.C.A.A. researchers said that using a pool of students who had been admitted while Proposition 48 was in effect would have excluded those who subsequently were declared ineligible, and would not have given a true indication of the effects of the proposed new standards.

According to the study, had the new requirements been in place in 1984 and 1985, 31.7 percent of the incoming student-athletes would have been declared ineligible, including 17.9 percent of the white students and 72.2 percent of the black students.

Of those declared ineligible, 6.3 percent ultimately would have graduated, according to the study, including 4.1 percent of the whites and 12.8 percent of the blacks. Meanwhile, 57.7 percent of those declared eligible would have graduated.

An N.C.A.A. Survey Of member institutions showed that the percentage of athletes who did not meet Proposition 48 standards ranged between 4.5 percent and 6.5 percent between 1987 and 1990. Blacks made up at least 65 percent of those who did not meet the standards.

Too Quick a Response?

Mr. Rienzo of Georgetown University and other detractors have argued that the N.C.A.A. is forging ahead with the new changes to the eligibility requirements without analyzing the proper data.

Previous research, Mr. Rienzo said, has not indicated the proper G.P.A. and test-score cut-off for student-athlete eligibility.

"The issue isn't whether the votes are there," he said. "It's an issue of whether the research data is valid."

Ms. Straus of the University of Chicago said she had informed the President's Commission that her requirements committee could not come up with an entrance-examination-score cutoff that accurately predicts college success.

But Ms. Straus said the commission's view is that the test-score cutoff has "been the standard since 1986 and people have known about it since 1983." The commission members "feel it's in the public's consciousness," she said.

The 2.5 G.P.A., Ms. Straus said, is equivalent to achieving a combined 700 on the S.A.T. or an 18 on the A.C.T.

Mr. Rienzo has maintained that the association is moving too quickly to respond to public concern about the management of intercollegiate athletics and numerous reports of abuse. A Louis Harris poll last year found that 75 percent of Americans believe college athletics is "out of control," and many called for government intervention.

While the proposed changes would polish the association's image, Mr. Rienzo said, numerous student-athletes would be left behind, particularly economically disadvantaged blacks and Latinos.

"Whether they want to or not, [the supporters of the proposals] are discriminating against the socioeconomically deprived," Mr. Rienzo said. The new rules are not going to work, he added, "unless you provide the black student with additional support in elementary and high school so they can compete fairly."

Ms. Straus acknowledged that blacks, whose mean combined score on the S.A.T. last year was 736, would be disproportionately affected by the rule changes. But she said that the measures would send a signal to school districts that student-athletes need better academic preparation in the elementary and secondary grades.

'Too Strong To Stop'

The proposed new standards represent the latest in a series of changes intercollegiate athletics has undergone since the onset of Proposition 48.

In 1989, the N.C.A.A. sparked a controversy when it passed a proposal, sponsored by the Southeastern Conference, that barred student-athletes from receiving federal financial aid and athletic scholarships unless they qualified academically under Proposition 48. The rule, known as Proposition 42, was later modified to ban only scholarship aid.

Last spring, the Knight Foundation's commission on reforming college sports released a scathing report that recommended, among other measures, that college presidents assume more control over their athletics departments and budgets. (See Education Week, March 27, 1991 .)

In addition to the proposed changes to Proposition 48 that are being considered this week, future N.C.A.A. conventions will focus on the certification of athletics programs, presidential authority, and institutional control (1993); financial problems and issues (1994); and student-athlete welfare (1995).

"The momentum is too strong to stop," said Maureen Devlin, the associate staff director of the Knight Commission.

Vol. 11, Issue 16, Pages 1, 28

Published in Print: January 8, 1992, as N.C.A.A. Mulls Stiff Standards for Student Athletes
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