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NCAA Tightens Academic Rules for Student-Athletes : Education: Schools in Division I overwhelmingly approve raising required grade-point average.


ANAHEIM — Despite an outcry that the rules would discriminate against minorities, the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.'s largest schools voted Wednesday to adopt more stringent eligibility standards for entering student-athletes.

The action, taken at the 86th annual NCAA convention here, represents a tightening of the NCAA's requirements, known in college sports circles as the Proposition 48 rules, which base freshman eligibility on standardized test scores and high school grade-point average in certain core courses.

Schools in the NCAA's Division I--the organization's highest classification--approved by nearly 3 to 1 rules that will raise the required GPA from 2.0 to 2.5. on a scale of 4.0.

The requirements, slated to go into effect in the 1995-96 academic year, also will base freshman eligibility on a sliding scale in which an athlete could offset a GPA between 2.0 and 2.5 with a test score higher than the established minimums of 700 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and 17 on the American College Testing (ACT) examination.

Under the NCAA's current regulations, an athlete is required to present a 2.0 GPA in the core courses and a score of either 700 on the SAT or 17 on the ACT.

Athletes who fail to meet the new standards are ineligible as freshmen and lose one of the four years of eligibility allowed under NCAA rules. If such an athlete enrolls at an NCAA school as a freshman, he or she is allowed to receive only need-based, non-athletic financial aid.

The NCAA's new rules, which modify standards that have been in effect since 1986, drew criticism from a segment of the organization that has long argued that the rules reduce educational opportunities for minorities.

"I live in America, and I'm willing to accept what the convention does," Georgetown Athletic Director Frank Rienzo, an outspoken opponent of the rules, said after the voting. "Fortunately, I don't have a child whose access to higher education will be affected by this."

"An increasing number of kids will be deprived of access to higher education, and most of them are going to be minorities," he added.

Also speaking out against the requirements were administrators and educators from several historically black institutions.

In addressing the convention, William DeLauder, president of Delaware State College, referred to statistics showing that 70% of the athletes likely to be denied eligibility as freshmen under the new standards will be black.

DeLauder also cited statistics showing that blacks who score below 700 on the SAT are more likely to obtain their degrees than whites who score under 700.

"This is clearly a discriminatory proposal," he said.

Nonetheless, the Division I schools clearly favored the new rules. Of 333 voting schools and conferences, 249 favored the standards, 72 were opposed and five abstained.

The result represents another victory for the NCAA Presidents Commission, which sponsored the rules as part of its ongoing reform initiative.

The commission's chairman, University of Mississippi Chancellor Gerald Turner, said the new standards will send a clearer signal to high school athletes of what is required of them as college students.

"We are saying, 'This is what you need to do to get a degree. This is a more accurate description of the minimum kind of preparation that is required for you to have a good chance to graduate,' " he said.

"It is much harder to bring up an SAT score than a GPA. Data shows that if you tell kids, 'Look, this is what you've got to do,' they will do it. If we require a 2.0, that's what they'll get. If we require a 2.5, they'll do that."

Addressing the concerns of minorities, Turner referred to data showing that the percentage of blacks competing in college football and basketball in 1988 was greater than it was in 1984.

"The data shows you kids will meet the standards you give them," he said. "If the data did not read like it does, showing that the percentage of blacks in football and basketball was greater than before Prop. 48 went into effect, then the presidents would have a hard time supporting this."

Of particular concern to some opponents was the fact that, despite research calling for an open-ended index, the Presidents Commission proposed a scale that will not allow for an athlete to use a GPA higher than 2.5 to offset an SAT score lower than 700. An athlete can use an SAT score of 900 or higher to offset a GPA of 2.0.

With college athletics under increasing scrutiny from state and federal lawmakers, the presidents decided that eliminating the minimum test scores would indicate that the NCAA was losing ground in its attempts at reform.

Several schools with prominent athletic programs--including Notre Dame, Ohio State, Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, Louisiana State University and the University of Tennessee--voted against the new standards.

"I'm not sure that it's good legislation," said Father E. William Beauchamp, Notre Dame executive vice president and the school's voting delegate at the convention. "For one thing, I'm not convinced it's not discriminatory. Second, I have a problem with the 900 and the 2.0 at one end of the index. That person is an underachiever, and yet he gets rewarded.

"I want to say this legislation won't affect Notre Dame, but I'm thinking in terms of what's good for the membership."

In a move that did not generate controversy, the Division I schools approved rules that will raise the required number of core courses from 11 to 13. The additional courses must be English and mathematics or science.

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