Eligibility tightened by NCAA

January 10, 1995|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO -- The members of the Mid-Eastern Athletic

Conference could see it coming, but they still don't enjoy being bypassed on the NCAA's road to reform.

The 89th annual NCAA convention heated up yesterday with Division I votes on freshman eligibility and other thorny issues related to academic progress.

The MEAC, a conference of nine historically black colleges that includes Coppin State, Morgan State and UMES, protested with some counterproposals, which lost in landslides.

"This is definitely going to widen the gap," UMES athletic director Hallie Gregory said of the difficulties members of the MEAC already have recruiting and competing in Division I. "More importantly, I don't think we're looking out for kids' welfare."

Going against a tide of academic reform that began here in 1983 when the NCAA approved Proposition 48, the MEAC proposed that that requirement of a 700 score on the Scholastic Assessment Test and a 2.0 grade-point average in high school remain the standard for freshman eligibility. It was voted down, 277-46.

The MEAC also proposed making freshmen ineligible, which would make moot initial eligibility standards. The vote was 311 against, 17 for.

Instead, Division I voted to go forward with a tougher standard, first voted in in 1992, that includes a sliding scale for freshman eligibility. An SAT score of 700, for instance, would have to be accompanied by a GPA of 2.5 in 13 core high school courses for freshman eligibility, while a prospect with an SAT of 900 would need a 2.0 GPA.

Initially, the tougher standards were supposed to go into effect this year, but protests by the Black Coaches Association during the 1993-94 season reopened that debate. The new standards will instead be implemented next year, affecting current high school juniors.

The MEAC and the basketball forces did score a win, however. Beginning in 1996, partial qualifiers -- freshmen who come close to the eligibility standards -- will receive scholarships and be allowed to practice.

In addition, a proposal that would have required junior college transfers to sit out one year in Division I was defeated.

Coaches seeking recruiting leeway were also encouraged by a narrow loss on a proposal that would have given athletes who aren't eligible as freshmen a fourth year to play if they make satisfactory progress toward a degree. It was voted down, but only by a margin of 164-152, and the concept is sure to resurface.

"There are clearly a lot of people who see the merit in providing the opportunity for athletes who work hard to gain back that fourth year of eligibility," said Jim Haney, the president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

For the most part, eligibility and academics have become racial issues, and the historically black colleges were bolstered by Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton. They cite data that support their contention that standardized tests are racially and culturally biased, but the NCAA's Presidents Commission brings out studies that show graduation rates climb as standards are made tougher.

"Classroom performance, not standardized tests, is the best predictor of ability," said Clayton McNeil, the athletic director at Coppin State. "[The MEAC's] proposals would have sent the message that you've got to perform in the college classroom before you can compete in college athletics."

UMBC president Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, an African-American, spoke against the MEAC proposals.

"Think of the lunacy of the people in this room talking about a 700 SAT being too high," Hrabowski said. "To go below that level sends the message to African-American students that tests are not important, that we don't expect them to do well on tests. To be a doctor or a lawyer or a nurse, you're going to have to pass tests. To put our heads in the sand and think otherwise is ludicrous."

NCAA DECISIONS

The NCAA convention made these moves yesterday:

* Voted in tougher academic standards for freshman eligibility. An athlete would be evaluated on a sliding scale that will, for instance, require that an SAT score of 700 be accompanied by a grade-point average of 2.5 in 13 core high school courses, while a prospect with an SAT of 900 would need a 2.0 GPA.

* Decided that beginning in 1996, freshmen who come close to the eligibility standards will receive scholarships and be allowed to practice.

* Defeated a plan to require junior college transfers to sit out one year in Division I.

* Rejected a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference proposal that would have made freshmen ineligible.

* Narrowly defeated a proposal that would have given athletes who aren't eligible as freshmen a fourth year to play if they made enough progress toward a degree.

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