for Public Justice
Sues NCAA for Race Discrimination over Freshman Eligibility
Suit Challenges Minimum Test Score Requirement
as Discriminatory Against African-Americans
For Immediate Release: Wednesday, January 8, 1997
For More Information Contact: Theresa Henige, TLPJ, 202-797-8600;
Andre' Dennis, 215-564-8034; David Schoen, 212-665-4817
Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ) filed
a national race discrimination class action against the National
Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) January 8, charging that
the NCAA's freshman eligibility rules discriminate against African-American
student-athletes. The NCAA, which governs intercollegiate athletics,
requires all potential student-athletes at major schools to achieve
a minimum score on the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or the
American College Test (ACT) -- regardless of their academic records
or scholastic achievements. The lawsuit charges that the requirement
violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its implementing
regulations, which prohibit race discrimination by educational
institutions receiving federal funds.
"The NCAA's minimum test score requirement
has discriminated against hundreds, if not thousands, of African-American
student-athletes," said TLPJ co-lead counsel Andre' Dennis,
of Philadelphia's Stradley, Ronon, Stevens & Young, LLP. "The
goal of this lawsuit is to stop this discrimination."
The class action lawsuit, Cureton v. NCAA,
was filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia on behalf of
Tai Kwan Cureton and Leatrice Shaw, who graduated 27th and 5th,
respectively, in a class of 305 from Philadelphia's Simon Gratz
High School last June. Cureton and Shaw were originally recruited
for track by numerous Division I schools. Despite their academic
success, however, the recruiting abruptly changed -- and they
were barred from competing as freshmen at Division I schools --
when they did not achieve the minimum SAT score. The lawsuit seeks
an injunction prohibiting the NCAA from enforcing the minimum
test score requirement and allowing all affected student-athletes
to regain their lost year of athletic eligibility.
"The NCAA's use of a fixed cut-off score
on the SAT or ACT is completely unjustified," said TLPJ co-lead
counsel David Schoen, who has his own practice in New York City.
"Colleges do not even use fixed cut-off scores to determine
admissions. The NCAA's reliance on this one-size-fits-all cut-off
score arbitrarily denies athletic opportunities for African-American
The NCAA first proposed adopting a fixed cut-off
score requirement in the early 1980s. In 1983, the Educational
Testing Service (ETS), which designed the SAT, criticized the
NCAA's then-proposed use of a fixed cut-off score. ETS warned
the NCAA that its use of a fixed cut-off score would have a disproportionate
impact on African-American student-athletes and might undermine
the overall effectiveness of the effort to raise standards for
athletes. Despite ETS's warnings, the NCAA adopted rules that
included a minimum test score requirement. These original rules,
implemented in 1986, are known as "Proposition 48."
The NCAA later commissioned studies that proved
ETS's warnings to be accurate. The NCAA's reports show that 47
percent of the African-American student-athletes who entered college
prior to the implementation of Proposition 48 and graduated
from college would have been deemed ineligible to compete
and receive scholarships during their freshman year because of
the minimum test score requirement. Only 8 percent of the graduating
white athletes from that same freshman class would have been deemed
ineligible based on their test scores.
The current freshman eligibility rules, which
went into effect on August 1, 1996, are known as "Proposition
16." Proposition 16 uses even higher cut-off scores and will
result in even greater discrimination against African-American
student-athletes. The use of both Proposition 48 and Proposition
16 has been opposed for years by civil rights groups and public
In 1994, The McIntosh Commission on Fair Play
in Student-Athlete Admissions, a panel of independent scholars
formed in 1985 to reanalyze the NCAA's research data, released
a report strongly criticizing Proposition 48 and Proposition 16.
The McIntosh Commission report found that the rules discriminate
against minorities and students with lower socio-economic backgrounds,
unjustifiably interfere with the higher education of thousands
of student-athletes, and exclude many likely college graduates
from competing in college sports as freshmen.
The National Center for Fair and Open Testing
(FairTest), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the fair use
of standardized tests, has also attacked the inequities in both
Proposition 48 and Proposition 16, particularly the use of the
cut-off score. FairTest has repeatedly warned the NCAA that its
rules are discriminatory and even attempted change through the
NCAA's own legislative process, but to no avail.
"The NCAA's goal of ensuring academic integrity
in college sports is admirable, but that desirable end doesn't
justify the means," said TLPJ staff attorney Adele Kimmel,
co-counsel in the case. "The minimum test score requirement
violates federal civil rights law."
Under Title VI and its implementing regulations,
the courts apply a three-part test to determine legality. First,
the plaintiff must show that the challenged requirement has a
racially disproportionate impact. Second, if such a showing is
made, the defendant must prove that the requirement is dictated
by educational necessity. Third, if the defendant meets its burden,
the plaintiff can still prevail by showing that another, equally
effective alternative requirement would have less of a racial
impact. In Cureton v. NCAA, TLPJ asserts that the NCAA's
requirement is unjustifiable and that numerous alternative approaches
would be superior and non-discriminatory.
Explaining why he chose to file suit, named plaintiff
Cureton said, "The NCAA's reliance on the SAT score is wrong
and hurting hundreds, if not thousands, of African-American student-athletes.
I believe this suit will make a difference and hope others will
join me in challenging the NCAA's discriminatory rule."
TLPJ has become nationally known for, among other
things, successfully representing women student-athletes in numerous
Title IX suits, including the Title IX lawsuit against Brown University.
In addition to Dennis, Schoen, and Kimmel, TLPJ's
legal team in Cureton v. NCAA includes J. Richard Cohen,
Legal Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
"TLPJ sues NCAA for race discrimination over freshman eligibility rules." Trial Lawyers for Public Justice. 8 Jan 1997. http://www.publicjustice.net/pr/ncaapr.htm