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Black Coaches Assn. Boycott Backed at Crenshaw, Fremont : Basketball: Local coaches support protest over NCAA reduction in scholarships. But Kareem Abdul-Jabbar questions the group's motives.

January 23, 1994|SEAN WATERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Crenshaw High Coach Willie West called college entrance exams "a big giant who has grown out of control," while Fremont High Coach Sam Sullivan believes the loss of another scholarship may be the final straw for black coaches.

West and Sullivan--two of the area's most successful high school basketball coaches--support the protests of the black college coaches association over decisions made at the NCAA Convention in San Antonio to limit men's basketball scholarships.

NCAA Division I college chief executive officers voted Jan. 10 not to restore men's basketball scholarship limits to 14 from 13. The delegates also approved a "thorough review" of tougher freshman eligibility requirements, effective August, 1995.

As colleges cut costs for all sports, the limit on men's basketball scholarships has dropped from 15 in 1991 to 14 last year to 13 this year. The reduction means that 301 fewer scholarships will be offered this year than last. Women's basketball scholarships remain at 15 per school.

Approximately 65% of Division I mens' basketball players are black.

Angered by the NCAA delegates' decision not to restore the additional scholarship, the Black Coaches Assn. threatened a nationwide boycott. Rudy Washington, Drake University coach and executive director of the black coaches group, met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who got the U. S. Justice Department to intervene. The boycott was to begin Jan. 15, but Washington postponed the action when the U. S. Justice Department agreed to help mediate. Washington is a graduate and former coach at Locke High.

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"Personally, I think the (black coaches are) taking a courageous stand," Sullivan said. "You take away one scholarship and one less kid gets a chance to receive an education."

However, former National Basketball Assn. and UCLA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar believes the black coaches group is acting more in its own interest than in the interests of the black student-athletes.

"To me, it's crucial that student-athletes are given an opportunity to get an education, not just an opportunity to enhance the athletic programs at a university because that's exploitation," Abdul-Jabbar said, pointing out that the average college basketball program graduates fewer than half of its athletes. "There has been a lot of abuse in college athletics where athletes who are not academically qualified are admitted because of their athletic ability and then cast off when they become failures. I think some coaches are not living up to their obligation as educators."

Said West: "The (black coaches group) is fighting for numbers, not a racial thing. When the NCAA cuts out a scholarship, they're taking away a scholarship from everyone whether they're white or black."

In 24 years, more than 100 of West's players have receive Division I scholarships, including four off his first team. In 1988, eight Cougars received scholarships, including Steve Thompson who signed with Syracuse. Three Crenshaw players--Kris Johnson (UCLA), Tremaine Fowlkes (Cal) and Tommie Davis (Houston)--have made early commitments from the 1993-94 team.

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It has become more difficult for Central City players to receive scholarships since the NCAA passed tougher freshman college entrance requirements in 1983, West said.

Beginning with the entering class of 1986, college athletes were required to have a minimum 2.0 grade-point average in college curriculum courses and score at least 660 out of a possible 1,600 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test or 15 out of a possible 36 on the American College Test. Those scores have been progressively raised until an athlete needed at least a 700 on the SAT or a 17 on the ACT.

According to a 1993 NCAA study, only 33% of the freshman basketball players who entered USC between 1983 and 1986 graduated while only 31% of those at UCLA did. During the same period Indiana Coach Bob Knight graduated half of his players, one of the highest rates.

Concerned about the poor graduation rate of student-athletes, NCAA presidents raised the standards by creating an eligibility index. An athlete with a 2.0 grade-point average would need a 900 on the SAT or a 21 on the ACT to qualify, while an athlete with a 2.5 grade-point average would need 700 on the SAT or 17 on the ACT.

Test scores have proved to be a stumbling block for several Central City players, including 6-5 guard Reggie McFerren and 6-7 center Leon Watson, Crenshaw starters who have not met the required test scores.

Said West: "I have players struggling to get a 700. How are they going to get a 900?

"The SAT has become a big giant who has grown out of control. It's not as tough as it is made out to be. But because the NCAA has placed such great importance on it, some of my players are psyched out before they even take the test."

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