NEW ORLEANS — The most controversial, most emotional, most significant item on the agenda of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. convention here this week is, actually, an amendment to a piece of legislation passed by this convention three years ago and scheduled to take effect in August.
That legislation, Bylaw 5-1-(j), establishes minimum academic requirements for freshman in order to be eligible to compete in intercollegiate athletics.
No one is contesting the need for academic standards. But there are plenty of delegates here--most of them from predominantly black institutions--who have a lot to say about where the standard is set and what method is used to set the standard.
As it stands now, in order to compete as a freshman next fall, a student-athlete would have to go in with a 2.0 grade point average and a 700 combined score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.
The NCAA Council and the NCAA Presidents Council is sponsoring one of the three proposals that would modify 5-1-(j). Proposal 16 would allow two more years of phasing the rule in by establishing an index for the 1986 and 1987 classes, allowing a student with a higher grade point average to compete with a lower test score, and vice versa.
Under Proposal 16, by 1988, the standard would be back to 2.0 and 700.
But before the Division I members have a chance to vote on Proposal 16, they must first deal with Proposals 14 and 15, both sponsored by Alabama State, Grambling, Jackson State, Mississippi Valley State, Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern.
Proposal 14 concentrates on the use of grades in core curriculum high school courses and would eliminate the use of test scores which, it is argued, are inherently biased. Many critics of such tests claim they are culturally and racially discriminatory because they are written from the point of view of the suburban white experience. Proposal 15 would allow for using test scores for placement purposes only, not for determining eligibility.
Because of a new format in voting procedures that calls for any vote by division to be taken in the separate meetings of the divisions rather than at the general business session (which begins Tuesday) this crucial vote will be taken in the Division I meeting today.
On the evening before that vote was to be taken, Dr. Percy Pierre, president of Prairie View A&M and President of the Council of Presidents of the Southwestern Athletic Assn., said: "All three proposals recognize the need to modify 5-1-(j). . . . Our concern is how to modify it.
"The problem that was identified in 1983 was that too few black athletes were graduating. The study (an NCAA-sponsored project called Study of Freshman Eligibility Standards) confirmed that. Only 31% of black male athletes graduate. That is a problem that we need to solve.
"But if 5-1-(j) had been in effect for the athletes studied, it would have disqualified 70% of those who did graduate. This legislation diminishes the already small number of athletes who are graduating."
Percy points out that even the Educational Testing Service, which invented the SAT test, does not support its use as an absolute standard. He would rather see legislation that acts against schools that continue to have low graduation rates for athletes, putting the emphasis on helping student-athletes get through school rather than denying athletes access in the first place.
But that is not the question at this convention. The question here is how to amend the standards that will go into effect next fall.
Dr. John Ryan, president of Indiana University and chairman of the Presidents Commission, was busy reminding everyone that the Chief Executive Officers (presidents and chancellors) have made it very clear that they are serious about higher academic standards as well as strong stands against rules violations and a strong commitment to drug testing.