Tuesday, March 31, 1999
NCAA Wins Stay of Ruling That Barred Use
of Test Scores in Eligibility
By WELCH SUGGS
A federal appeals court in Philadelphia gave
the National Collegiate Athletic Association some breathing room
Tuesday in the association's race to come up with new academic
standards for freshman athletes.
Without issuing an explanation, a three-judge
panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit voted
2 to 1 to grant the N.C.A.A. a stay of a district-court judge's
ruling that found that the association's use of standardized-test
scores in its academic requirements discriminated against black
students. The N.C.A.A. had made an emergency appeal to the appellate
court last week after Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter refused to stay
his own March 8 ruling. The stay is in effect pending the association's
appeal of the decision to the Third Circuit.
Under Proposition 16, which went into effect
in 1996, athletes must achieve certain scores on the SAT or ACT
in combination with certain grade-point averages in 13 high-school
core courses. An athlete with a grade-point average of 2.5 must
score 820 (of a possible 1,600) on the SAT or 68 (of a possible
144) on the ACT, while a player with a grade-point average of
2.0 must score 1,010 on the SAT or 86 on the ACT. The academic
guidelines were designed to insure that colleges and universities
in Division I of the N.C.A.A. recruited only those athletes with
a realistic chance of earning a degree.
Judge Buckwalter ruled that the cutoff scores
used by the N.C.A.A. discriminated against black athletes and
that the association had other standards it could employ to raise
graduation rates for athletes. His ruling left the N.C.A.A.'s
eligibility standards in question less than a month before the
spring signing period for athletics scholarships begins on April
In ruling that the requirements had a disproportionate
effect against black athletes, the judge also ruled that the N.C.A.A.
is subject to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because
it functions as the controlling authority over college athletics
programs, which receive federal funds. N.C.A.A. officials have
said they plan to appeal that portion of the judge's ruling as
well as the narrower finding of discrimination in initial-eligibility
"The stay issued by the Court of Appeals does
not alter the district court's ruling on the merits of this case,"
said Adele P. Kimmel, a lawyer with Trial Lawyers for Public Justice,
which has been representing the plaintiffs in the case. "The granting
of the stay means that the student-athletes injured by the N.C.A.A.'s
discriminatory rule will have to wait for the appeal to be resolved
before they can obtain the relief to which they are entitled."
The Board of Directors of Division I of the N.C.A.A.
will meet before the end of the week to decide its next step,
said Charles T. Wethington Jr., president of the University of
Kentucky and a member of the board.
"Obviously, the stay was something the N.C.A.A.
wanted to have happen," he said. "The good news is that it gives
us some time to work on initial-eligibility standards. That work
is already under way, but we certainly would have been under some
time constraints if the stay had not been granted."
The N.C.A.A.'s Academics/Eligibility/Compliance
Cabinet has been reviewing possible changes to eligibility standards
since last summer and is considering three basic alternatives
to Proposition 16. Two of the options would lower the minimum
SAT requirement, while the third would do away with the cutoff
score altogether and allow for a full extension of the sliding
scale. Had the Third Circuit failed to grant the stay, the N.C.A.A.'s
Division I Board of Directors was considering imposing one of
the three proposals or a variation on them before the beginning
of the spring signing period, according to Graham Spanier, president
of Pennsylvania State University and chairman of the board.
The appellate court did not specify a time period
for the stay, but Ms. Kimmel speculated that the appeal would
proceed on an expedited basis.
Suggs, Welch. "NCAA wins stay ruling that barred use of test scores in eligibility." Chronicle of Higher Education. 31 Mar. 1999. . For Fee$$ http://chronicle.com/cgi2-bin/texis/chronicle/search