A federal judge in Philadelphia ruled Monday that the NCAA’s freshman eligibility standards violate federal civil rights laws because of their “unjustified” impact on black students. The case will be appealed, but if it stands, Division I and II schools will no longer be required to follow rules designed to improve athletes’ graduation rates and prevent academic abuses.
If the NCAA standards are thrown out, college athletics must not return to the days when “anything goes” was the rule. The athletics association must maintain standards to ensure that colleges and universities remain true to their mission – teaching students.
The rules that were struck down this week are known as Proposition 48 (Proposition 16, in its latest form). They were instituted in 1992 after it was discovered that several star college athletes were virtually illiterate and others were playing without regard to their academic standing. The rules required freshmen to have a high school diploma, a minimum standardized test score and a minimum grade-point average in 13 core academic courses. The test scores and GPA were set on an indexed, sliding scale on which a student with an 820 on the Scholastic Assessment Test had to have at least a 2.5 GPA. A student with a 2.0 GPA had to have a minimum SAT score of 1,010.
The court decided the rules did not contribute to the “goal of raising student-athlete graduation rates” and that they adversely affect African-American and low-income student athletes. The court’s decision means that each of the 500 Division I and II colleges will be responsible for determining its own freshman eligibility rules.
Colleges and universities exist to educate their students. For many schools, that mission is always being tested by another goal – to make money. Many schools have bent the rules – if not broken them outright – to increase their teams’ chances of winning a championship. Students who shouldn’t be allowed to play because of poor grades play anyway; athletes receive “loans” of various sorts from booster clubs and prominent alumni; students go through school with no intention of graduating. Academics are sacrificed in the quest for a better team and increased marketing possibilities.
The ruling was a good one, reversing biased requirements that affected African-American athletes disproportionately. By emphasizing standard testing with its sliding scales, Proposition 16 hurt minority athletes. But the NCAA and its member schools must enforce reasonable minimum academic standards to ensure that their athletes are also students.