Life after Basketball

January 13, 1995

The National Collegiate Athletic Association voted overwhelmingly this week to raise academic requirements for students receiving athletic scholarships. That's the good news. The bad news is the NCAA decided to delay implementing the higher standards for a year.

The worst news is that this fight over standards continues to be a racial one. Black political activists, black (and white) coaches at many big state and private universities, as well as athletic directors and coaches at smaller, predominantly black schools, believe that using high school grades and, especially, standardized admissions tests to determine eligibility for athletic scholarships discriminates against blacks.

That is probably true, but the fact that blacks do poorly when so judged is all the more reason to keep coercing black educators and coaches to put more emphasis on the first part of the phrase "student athlete." University of Maryland Baltimore County President Freeman Hrabowski, who is black, told the NCAA, "to be a doctor or a lawyer or a nurse, you're going to have to pass tests." Therefore it is wrong to "send the message to African-American students that tests are not important."

He's right, and becoming a doctor, lawyer, nurse or such is still the best and most likely avenue out of poverty for African-Americans, including most of those young men who are good enough to play college football or basketball.

Since the NCAA first imposed the soon-to-be-raised minimum standards for athletes a decade ago, black graduation rates have risen. They are still not high enough. Many in fact are disgraceful. The graduation rate for black basketball players entering college in 1984-1987 was 0 percent at 30 NCAA Division I schools. At only 13 schools was the graduation rate for white players 0 percent. The recruiting and educational philosophy that resulted in that discrepancy is far more harmful to blacks than raising admissions standards -- and is itself a form of racism, however unconscious or well-meaning.

There are signs that offending institutions are going to correct this. "We've got to do a better job," Auburn Athletic Director David Housel recently told Emerge magazine, our source for the above statistics. (Auburn's was 0 percent for blacks, 100 percent for whites for the freshmen classes of 1988-91.) "Auburn, like a lot of schools, makes a lot of promises on the front end, but my goal is to make sure Auburn does a better job of fulfilling those promises," he said. "We want our student athletes to be as good as they can be as athletes, but in this day and time, that's not enough. We've got to prepare them for life after basketball."

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