Tuesday, March 9, 1999
Judge, Citing Bias, Orders NCAA to Stop
Using Test Scores to Establish Eligibility
By KARLA HAWORTH
A federal judge dealt a blow to the National
Collegiate Athletic Association on Monday, when he barred it from
using a rule under which freshman eligibility was determined in
part by scores on standardized tests. The judge found the rule
to be racially discriminatory.
The court's decision also answered two questions
posed by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month: whether the N.C.A.A.
is subject to a federal anti-discrimination law because its members
grant it authority to govern their sports programs, and whether
the law applies to the association because a non-profit group
affiliated with it clearly does receive federal funds. The answer
to both, said Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter, is yes.
That means the N.C.A.A. can be sued under federal
statutes that prohibit race and sex discrimination at institutions
that receive federal funds, said Adele P. Kimmel, a lawyer for
the group that brought the suit that was decided Monday. Judge
Buckwalter's opinion also leaves colleges without any rules to
determine whether freshman athletes may play.
The N.C.A.A. plans to ask the court to stay the
"This is an enormous victory," said Ms. Kimmel
of Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, a non-profit group that filed
a class-action lawsuit against the N.C.A.A. in 1997. The suit
charged that the association's requirements for freshman eligibility
discriminate against black athletes.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in
Philadelphia, asserted that the test-score cutoff provision of
Proposition 16 -- an N.C.A.A. rule that raised eligibility for
freshmen to participate in intercollegiate athletics -- violated
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits race
discrimination at institutions that receive federal funds.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two college
students, Tai Kwan Cureton and Leatrice Shaw, black athletes who
were freshmen at the time. Both had received good grades in high
school, but neither had achieved an SAT score of at least 820,
the minimum required under Proposition 16. As a result, both were
barred from competing as freshmen at Division I colleges, making
them less-desirable recruits at the colleges to which they had
In a 54-page decision, Judge Buckwalter ordered
the association to immediately stop using minimum standardized-test
scores as a requirement for freshman eligibility, saying that
that provision is illegal.
The initial-eligibility rule "has an unjustified
disparate impact against African Americans," Judge Buckwalter
wrote. He concluded: "The N.C.A.A. has not produced any evidence
demonstrating that the cutoff score used in Proposition 16 serves,
in any significant way, the goal of raising student-athlete graduation
The "racially adverse impact caused by the SAT
cutoff score is not justified by any legitimate educational necessity,"
The judge answered lingering questions from last
month's Supreme Court ruling in a gender-discrimination case against
the N.C.A.A. In that case, National Collegiate Athletic Association
v. R.M. Smith, the High Court found that the N.C.A.A. should
not be subject to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972,
a federal law barring sex discrimination, simply because it collects
dues from colleges that are covered by the law.
Judge Buckwalter reasoned that the Smith case
was applicable because Title IX was modeled after Title VI, replacing
the words "race, color, or national origin" with "sex."
Elsa Cole, general counsel for the N.C.A.A.,
said that she was "very pleased" with parts of the decision. Although
the court rejected the N.C.A.A.'s cutoff score, she said that
it did realize that "raising athlete-graduation rates is a legitimate
"The court has enjoined us from using Proposition
16 because we didn't provide a sufficient record of research to
correlate that specific SAT score with success in college," Ms.
Cole said. "But the court left it open for us to pass a new rule.
That allows us the opportunity to review initial eligibility further
with our membership."
Haworth, Karla. "Judge, citing bias, orders NCAA to stop using test scores to establish eligibility." Chronicle of Higher Education. 9 Mar 1999. For Fee$$ http://chronicle.com/cgi2-bin/texis/chronicle/search