Proposition 16 battle growing vote is Jan. 9

January 01, 1995|By William C. Rhoden | William C. Rhoden,New York Times News Service

During the University of Arkansas' drive to the national championship last spring, coach Nolan Richardson used the winners' podium as a pulpit. He extolled the virtues of opportunity, and condemned college presidents bent on passing regulations he felt would have a disastrous impact on some females, many minority group athletes and low-income whites.

Eight months later, as college football enters its final weekend and college basketball shifts into high gear, the fierce tug-of-war over access to higher education by athletes has intensified.

On Jan. 9 at the NCAA convention in San Diego, the membership will vote to adopt, rescind or modify new academic standards for athletes.

The new rule, Proposition 16, is scheduled to take effect Aug 1. The rule strengthens Proposition 48, which governs initial eligibility.

Under Proposition 48, incoming freshmen must achieve a minimum combined score of 700 on the Scholastic Assessment Test and earn a 2.0 average in a core curriculum of 11 courses.

The new rule increases the core curriculum to 13 courses, and establishes a sliding scale for grade-point averages and SAT scores that requires higher test scores for students with lower grades.

An athlete with a 2.5 average could have a combined 700 score; an athlete with a 2.0 would need a combined score of 900.

The controversy surrounding both regulations is the use of a cutoff on standardized test scores to determine whether freshmen can compete and, more important, receive athletic scholarships.

On Thursday, a report issued by the McIntosh Commission on Fair Play predicted that higher standards would lock out a high percentage of otherwise qualified members of minority groups.

The report criticized generations of NCAA-sponsored propositions (48, 42 and 16) for their "unethical reliance upon arbitrary test scores' cutoffs instead of genuine measures of capacity to do college work."

According to the report, "Higher test scores are not the same as higher academic standards."

The McIntosh Commission is a Florida-based foundation that focuses on civil rights and environmental issues. The founder, Michael McIntosh, has a special interest in providing access to higher education for low-income student athletes.

What makes standardized tests controversial and confusing is that they do not simply reflect what students learn in school, but also what students bring with them from home. All homes are not equal.

Critics complain that requiring a student-athlete to achieve a minimum SAT score of 700 is not much to ask. That may be true, but only in a relative sense. It's like Michael Jordan saying, "It's just a dunk."

Richardson and the Black Coaches Association think that the new measures are aimed at black athletes. The rule may be more specific in its reach. Proposition 16 is not "aimed" at the black athlete, but will affect a particular kind of black athlete: the playground talent, the inner-city player who attends an under-funded public school whose environment overwhelms the educational process.

I suspect that if we follow the truth wherever it leads, we'll find that college presidents -- who bask in the glory of athletic success and fire losers -- want to put a fresh veneer on their sports programs:

Increase graduation rates by eliminating high-risk students from the mix. Bolster public image by selectively admitting a more attractive student-athlete. Doesn't have to be "white" necessarily; just from palatable middle-class and upper-middle class homes, private city schools or lush suburban public schools. Wonderful board scores. Passable jump shots.

Momentum for tougher rules, stricter guidelines, narrower passages to opportunity is mounting. Richardson will preach the gospel of opportunity this winter, but he may find that the congregation isn't listening.

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