Minority Student Athletes Hit Hardest By Stricter NCAA Eligibility Rules

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Fewer minority and low-income high school student athletes are passing academic muster under the NCAA's tougher, tighter eligibility requirements, while prospective college athletes overall are performing at somewhat higher academic levels, according to three NCAA studies released last week.

The studies are the first to gauge the effects of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's controversial academic standards known as Proposition 16. Since 1996, these standards have required prospective college athletes to take more academic courses and achieve higher grade point averages and college-entrance-exam scores. ("New NCAA Rules May Bench Some Athletes," Sept. 6, 1995.)

In 1995, when student athletes entered colleges under less-stringent academic standards known as Proposition 48, 6.3 percent of prospective freshman athletes were declared ineligible for intercollegiate competition, according to data from the NCAA Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse. In 1996, the figure rose to 10.6 percent.

Black and Hispanic students felt the greatest effects of the higher standards. The ineligibility rates for those groups jumped from 16.3 percent and 9.3 percent, respectively, in 1995 to 26.9 percent and 15.9 percent in 1996. The ineligibility figure for white prospective college athletes, meanwhile, rose from 3.5 percent to 6.5 percent.

Likewise, poorer students were hit harder than wealthier students by Proposition 16. In 1995, 14.7 percent of students whose family incomes were under $30,000 were declared ineligible; in 1996, the figure was 22.2 percent. For students whose family incomes were above $80,000, the ineligibility rate rose from 2.5 percent to 4.6 percent.

Student athletes showed modest overall academic gains in other categories, however. Their average combined scores on the ACT and SAT college-entrance exams increased slightly, from 21.9 and 1,079, respectively, in 1995 to 22.1 and 1,081 in 1996. They also took more courses in designated high school core subject areas, from an average of 16.8 in 1995 to 17.4 in 1996.

Raising the Bar

The stricter academic requirements are intended to ensure that college-bound athletes are prepared for college-level work and thus are more likely to graduate, Todd A. Petr, the NCAA's director of research, said in an interview.

"The bar was raised, and students are working harder to reach it," Mr. Petr said. "We expect that as we follow these students through college, they're likely to graduate at higher levels" than college athletes who did not have to meet the new requirements.

He said that he and other officials at the Overland Park, Kan., group that governs intercollegiate sports had expected that the new academic requirements would adversely affect minority and low-income students. But he added that this outcome was more an issue for school leaders and policymakers to debate.

Such a discussion is something that Art Taylor, the associate director for Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society, said he would like to see.

"High standards are a good thing. We want to send kids to college well prepared and with their eye on graduation and life after," he said. "But there's tragedy here, too. There are thousands of young people who don't have the resources to achieve at the highest levels, especially in the inner cities.

"The onus is on the school system to prepare kids from a young age to meet these standards," Mr. Taylor said.

Among the reports' other findings:

  • Female prospective athletes showed relatively high levels of academic performance, earning especially high GPA's and taking more core academic coursework than their male counterparts.
  • Male prospective student athletes in the so-called Olympic sports--those that typically don't generate much revenue--trailed female athletes in most categories but generally outscored them on the ACT and the SAT.
  • Male prospective athletes in the so-called revenue sports--basketball and football--showed the lowest academic performance of the three groups studied and had the largest number and percentage of ineligible recruits.

To order the three reports, call Mr. Petr of the NCAA at (913) 339-1906.

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