ANAHEIM — University presidents, stepping up their drive to reform college athletics, will vote on tough new eligibility requirements for student athletes today at a meeting of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.
The proposed reforms have provoked angry criticism from some university administrators and coaches, who say the tougher rules--requiring incoming athletes to have at least a C-plus high school average instead of at least a C average--discriminate against poor youths, many of them inner-city blacks who would not go to college at all were it not for their athletic abilities.
If the proposals pass, some officials said, they would send a message to students as young as junior high school age that they must get their academic act together if they want to play college sports. The rules would become effective in the 1995-96 academic year and would apply to students who are now high school freshmen or younger.
"We can no longer permit a student's admission (to college) to be decided on the basis of athletic ability alone," said Thomas K. Hearn Jr., president of Wake Forest University in North Carolina and a leading proponent of the stiffer rules.
"It's a holy mission," said William E. Davis, chancellor of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He said he will vote today to raise the number of academic "core" classes that high school athletes must take--English, mathematics, science and the like--from 11 to 13.
But Davis said he plans to oppose the C-plus, or 2.5, cumulative grade-point-average requirement, up from an existing 2.0 requirement.
"I think the message to students is that, whether they are an athlete or not, they've got to plan to go to college and prepare for it," said Davis, who predicted the C-plus rule will win by a 2-1 ratio.
"The most important thing is to have the solid core requirement," he said. "That will make the biggest difference in academic programs. But I think a 2.5 GPA is unreasonable."
Many student athletes say there already is too much pressure to meet existing NCAA academic performance requirements, collectively known as Proposition 48 rules.
"It's hard for people like us high school students to maintain a 2.0 and play sports too," said senior Brandon Jessie, a basketball standout at Huntington Beach's Edison High. "I have to get my grades up to a C in algebra and in geometry before the (college basketball) signing date in April."
"I don't think they should be going to a 2.5 (GPA). They should be looking at all the kids struggling now to maintain a 2.0," said Jessie, 17, son of former Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Ron Jessie.
Others such as Terry Mann, a highly recruited basketball player from Fullerton's Sunny Hills High, favor emphasizing academics over athletics.
"Right now, if you look at the priorities of student athletes, the athlete comes first," said Mann, a senior who has a straight-A average, scored 1,360 out of a possible 1,600 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and is considering Stanford, UC Berkeley and several Ivy League universities.
"Guys are looking to play pro ball even in high school, so they choose education as a way to play basketball. I think we should get back to education," he said. "It's so hard to get a college scholarship and even harder to go pro--numerically, it's almost impossible.
"So we should prepare students to survive in the real world."
Representatives of the 296 NCAA Division I schools and 36 athletic conferences are eligible to vote on the proposals today, after a 1:30 p.m. debate at the Anaheim Hilton. The proposed rules were put forth by the increasingly powerful NCAA Presidents Commission, a group of 44 college chiefs who have been setting the course for tougher academic requirements since the middle 1980s.
The NCAA is also proposing:
* Setting a "sliding scale," in which a GPA below 2.5 can be offset by scores higher than 700 on the SAT or 17 out of a possible 36 on the American College Test.
* Requiring college athletes to make steady progress toward a degree if they want to maintain sports eligibility. (Many colleges already have degree requirements aimed at increasing overall graduation rates.)
Many coaches oppose basing eligibility on standardized tests, which critics argue are racially biased against poor, minority students because the questions are often drawn from a white, middle-class experience.
Cal State Fullerton football coach Gene Murphy and Cal State Los Angeles associate athletic director David Y. Thomas say the NCAA should drop the SAT standard altogether.
"My contention is this: You should take the (SAT) test and throw it out, because some kids can take tests and some can't," Murphy said.
"You can't tell me that the SAT is a measure of college success because I've had guys who scored 1,200 on the SAT flunk out of college, and guys who scored 480 and graduated," he said.