Delegates to the 1996 National Collegiate Athletic
Association (NCAA) Convention narrowly turned back a proposal
intended to diminish the harsh impact of Proposition 16, the new
test score-based NCAA eligibility rule due to go into effect this
August. At the January meeting in Dallas, Division I schools and
conferences voted 163-161 to reject Proposal 18, a measure that
would have helped minority, low-income and female student-athletes
by expanding the definition of partial qualifier under Proposition
16 to allow more student-athletes to receive athletic aid. These
partial qualifiers would not be able to compete their freshman
The surprising closeness of the vote and the intensity
of the accompanying debate demonstrate that the NCAA s reliance
on discriminatory standardized test scores to determine initial
athletic eligibility still sharply divides the association s member
schools. Despite efforts by the NCAA s leadership to focus attention
on proposals to restructure the organization, the votes on initial
eligibility produced the only true drama in Dallas.
Going into this year s convention, FairTest and
a wide range of allies, including the NAACP, the Women s Sports
Foundation, NOW, the ACLU and the Black Coaches Association, had
built support for an even more fundamental modification of the
NCAA s initial eligibility rules. Proposal 17, sponsored by the
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, would have made standardized
tests optional for most student-athletes. According to a National
Center for Education Statistics study, which looked at the impact
of different NCAA eligibility criteria on a group of 1992 college-bound
students, Proposal 17 and current NCAA rules eliminate similar
numbers of higher-income students from eligibility. However, 30%
more low-income student-athletes would have earned full eligibility
under Proposal 17. Slightly smaller gains would have been registered
by minority and female student-athletes.
The NCAA Presidents Commission strongly opposed
Proposal 17 because the rule deemphasized standardized test scores.
Moreover, the Commission refused to endorse even the more modest
changes called for under Proposal 18. However, intense lobbying
by FairTest and other critics of the NCAA s rules helped focus
the attention of delegates and of the media on the fact that Props.
48 and 16 (see summary below), both of which rely on test score
cutoffs, discriminate against minority student-athletes. According
to the NCAA's own Academic Performance Study (APS), Proposition
48 would have excluded 45% of the African American student-athletes
who entered college before the rule went into effect and who went
on to graduate within 5 years. For white student-athletes, the
figure was just seven percent.
The NCAA s APS also specifically recommended against
requiring grades and test scores simultaneously, explaining that
there is no scientific basis for relying on this type of double
cut or conjunctive rule. At this year s convention, the head of
the NCAA s Academic Requirements Committee repeated that assessment.
Nonetheless, the association s leadership took a position against
the only alternative to this type of rule. Faced with this heavy
internal opposition, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference withdrew
Proposal 17 in order to build support for Proposal 18. This proposal
would have ensured that students who are full qualifiers under
Proposition 48 remain at least partial qualifiers under the harsher
Proposition 16. Unlike nonqualifiers, partial qualifiers can practice
during their freshman year, and remain eligible for athletic aid.
FairTest, wth the support of the McIntosh Foundation,
and other opponents of the NCAA s rules, will continue to pressure
the NCAA to heed the results of its own research. Meanwhile, student-athletes
have already started to mount legal challenges to some facets
of the NCAA s eligibility rules and are likely to contest the
central element the test score requirements as Proposition 16
begins to take its toll.
"NCAA rejects reform proposals." Fair Test Examiner. Fall 1995.