ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The forces of reform won a major victory at the NCAA Convention yesterday when representatives of Division I schools voted overwhelmingly to establish the toughest academic standards in the history of college sports.
A key proposal that would increase required grade-point averages for incoming student-athletes from 2.0 to 2.5 passed by a vote of 249 to 72 (with five abstentions), over the bitter objection of those who charged that the legislation discriminates against students from lower socio-economic environments.
The margin was even larger than anticipated by the Presidents Commission, a powerful 44-member group of university presidents that sponsored the proposal and has called for stronger academic reforms.
"Obviously, we're pleased and surprised by the margin," said Wake Forest president Thomas K. Hearn Jr., a member of the Presidents Commission. "It's obviously an important, and somewhat controversial is sue. And I think it's a great credit to the Presidents Commission that we were able to get through to some people on what we feel is a proposal with great merit."
Also approved was a measure, Proposal 21, that will raise the NCAA's satisfactory progress requirements. Beginning with next fall's freshmen, athletes will have to complete at least 25 percent of the requirements in a specific degree program entering their third year, 50 percent entering their fourth year and 75 percent entering their fifth year.
The measure to increase the required grade-point averages, Proposal 16, caused the most furor on the convention floor, with many, including Temple University athletic director Charles Theokas, charging that the standardized test scores used to determine freshman eligibility are racially and culturally discriminatory.
It's a controversy that has raged since Proposition 48, the freshman eligibility rule, was first adopted in 1983.
"It's disappointing that that kind of legislation continues to dominate these meetings," said Theokas. "We do believe in academic parameters, but I also believe that we need to be sensitive. I don't feel that urban school systems, as they are presently structured, will be able to help kids make that higher score. In my opinion, we just need more data before we start affecting the current academic eligibility legislation."
William DeLauder, the president of Delaware State, gave an impassioned speech in which he argued that the new standards of Proposal 16 -- if in effect at the time Proposition 48 took effect six years ago -- would have eliminated approximately 70 percent of black athletes going into college, and only 18 percent of white athletes.
"I find it incredible to believe that this convention would adopt legislation that would further limit college opportunities for black Americans," said DeLauder. "It's discriminatory on its face. What they're doing simply is filtering out students. If you screen out students, you're saying in effect that you prefer not to give them an opportunity at all."
Said Edward Fort, president of North Carolina A&T: "The current system works. And if it's not broken, why are we attempting to fix it?"
But Hearn said that increasing academic standards for incoming student-athletes would more adequately prepare them for a college degree.
"Proposition 48 has taught us that if we set the standards higher, then the students are going to meet them," he said. "And meeting them can only enhance their ability to graduate. It's always a matter of judgment when you start setting numbers. I don't believe there is a magic number that we can set. But what we do know is that the higher, the better."
DeLauder expressed hope that there would be modifications to Proposal 16 in subsequent NCAA conventions, since it won't take effect until Aug. 1, 1995. But Theokas was not optimistic of any changes.
"It's on the books now -- and that was the President Commission's mission," Theokas said. "You can bet they'll fight any changes on it."
Other legislation approved yesterday included a proposal that prohibits paid campus visits for prospects who have not met current Proposition 48 requirements, beginning in 1993.
Perhaps the most notable measure to fail yesterday was Proposal 39, which would have granted a fourth year of eligibility to any Proposition 48-affected student-athlete -- coming into school this fall -- upon the completion of 96 credits entering his or her fifth academic year. It was the third straight year that membership shot down the proposal.
Other major pieces of legislation rejected were:
* A proposal that would have increased the required minimum credits earned by a student-athlete after his or her freshman year from 24 to 27.
* A proposal that would have gradually phased out, by 1996, any aid for Division I football and basketball players who failed to meet current Proposition 48 standards. Institutional aid based on need -- but not full scholarships -- is now allowed for such student-athletes.