NEW ORLEANS — As the delegates to the NCAA's annual convention were filing out of the huge meeting room, buzzing about the votes that had left test scores in as a requirement for freshman eligibility, Grambling Coach Eddie Robinson was asked what he thought of the standards.
He said that if they had been in effect when he was getting out of high school, he probably wouldn't have spent his lunch hour picking up that special recognition award as the winningest coach in the history of college football.
In fact, he said, he probably wouldn't have become a teacher and a coach at all. "I probably would have been picking cotton," Robinson said.
Grambling was among the Southwestern Athletic Conference schools that sponsored two proposals stressing grades in core curriculum classes as a means of bringing up academic standards, eliminating the use of tests, which are believed by many to be inherently biased against blacks.
A study commissioned by the NCAA itself showed that under the new rule, even as amended by Proposal 16, which did pass, about 93% of all white male athletes would figure to be eligible to play as freshmen, but that just 59% of the black athletes would be eligible.
"I'm disappointed that the delegates here did not show more concern for the young people who are going to be hurt by this," Robinson said.
"There will be more young black athletes hurt than white athletes, but that doesn't mean it's just a black problem.
"Don't think it's just the black schools that are going to be hurt. If you think that, then you're not watching your TV screen when they show the players running out of the chute."
The proposal that did pass allows for some phasing in of the plan to require a 2.0 grade-point average in core curriculum high school courses as well as a Scholastic Aptitude Test score of 700 or an American College Test score of 15. Those minimum requirements will be in full effect by fall of 1988.
Proposal 16 provides an index that allows for a student who has lower test scores to be eligible on the basis of higher grades, or a student with lower grades to be eligible on the basis of higher test scores.
"A test can't measure heart or determination," Robinson said. "That's not the way to predict how a player is going to respond when he gets to college."
Robinson could not say how many of his current recruits or current players would be eliminated by the current minimum test scores, because he has never used test scores. But he admitted that because he recruits almost entirely black athletes and the average black test score is below the minimum, it figures that most of his players come in below the minimum.
"And yet we graduate most of our players, more than most schools," he said. "This year the figure was down. It was about 70%. But we're usually much higher than that.
"When my players arrive, I tell them that they are living in the most competitive country in the world and that most of them are not going to play pro football. I make sure that they understand that if they are going to succeed in life, they need a degree.
"We have players come in who don't predict (to succeed) and who not only graduate from Grambling, but go on to get graduate degrees from the most sophisticaled universities. I did that. I went on to get my master's degree at Iowa."
Robinson now is unlikely to be getting many of those youngsters who most need to hear that message.
"We're talking about young men who have never had the kind of leadership they need to learn how important those things are," he said. "They need to get it from their teachers and their coaches in their high schools, but, most of all, they need to get it at home."
The idea of the legislation is to raise incoming standards and, therefore, raise graduation rates. Robinson believes that, eventually, word will reach the high school athlete and his coach and his parents, and grades and scores will improve. But there will, no doubt, be some sad cases of youngsters who don't get the chance to play major college football, who don't get the chance to try to graduate, during the transition years.
Some will drop down to Division II and Division III schools, where this rule is not in effect.
Robinson said that he did not expect Grambling, or any of the SWAC schools, to drop out of Division I or to walk out of the NCAA.
"When you belong to an organization that benefits you, you don't walk out just because of one thing you don't agree with. You try to change it--which we did. And then you find out how to live with it."
Proposal 16 Amends bylaws regarding eligibility requirements based on grade-point averages and SAT or ACT scores.
Proposal 43 Permits each Division I-A or I-AA member institution to visit a football prospect's educational institution only once each week.
Proposal 89 Limits the number of graduate assistant coaches in Division I to five in football and two in basketball.