RACE DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT FILED AGAINST
NCAA TEST-SCORE RULES
The long struggle to end the National Collegiate
Athletic Association's (NCAA) controversial use of cut scores
on the SAT and ACT to determine initial athletic eligibility moved
to Federal court in early January when two student-athletes filed
a lawsuit in Philadelphia charging that Proposition 16 discriminates
against African American student-athletes.
The class action suit, which grows out of research
and advocacy carried out by FairTest and the McIntosh Commission,
was brought by a legal team led by the Washington, D.C.-based
Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ).
According to the complaint, Cureton v. NCAA,
the NCAA's use of a fixed minimum score on standardized tests
to decide who is allowed to play first-year college sports and
receive athletic scholarships violates Title VI of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964 and its implementing regulations, which prohibit race
discrimination by institutions receiving federal funds. The plaintiffs
are seeking an injunction that would prohibit the NCAA from enforcing
the minimum test score requirement. The injunction would also
restore the lost year of athletic eligibility to all affected
Proposition 16 requires all student-athletes
entering Division I schools to achieve at least an 820 on the
SAT or a 68 on the ACT or face the loss of eligibility and, in
some cases, athletic aid. Both of the named plaintiffs in the
case, Tai Kwan Cureton, a freshman at Wheaton College, and Leatrice
Shaw, a Miami University freshman, lost recruiting opportunities
and full NCAA Division I eligibility solely because of their test
Cureton and Shaw both finished in the top 10%
of their class at Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia, accumulating
many academic, athletic and extracurricular honors. In his statement
at the press conference Cureton, who ran track in high school,
explained that "the NCAA's reliance on the SAT is wrong . . .
[and] is hurting hundreds, if not thousands, of student-athletes
like me, who have worked hard in school."
The legal action comes 14 years after Proposition
16's predecessor, Proposition 48, was first approved in the face
of strong opposition from the Historically Black Colleges and
other critics of the test score requirement. Just weeks after
the vote on Prop. 48, Gregory Anrig, then president of the Educational
Testing Service (which makes the SAT), wrote to the NCAA expressing
"serious concerns" about the new rule and warning that "the use
of a fixed cutoff score" would have a negative impact on African
One of FairTest's very first newsletters referred
readers to a 1984 NCAA Technical Report concluding that, had Prop.
48 been in effect in 1977, more than half of those African American
student-athletes who had graduated or were still enrolled in college
in 1983 would not have been granted full eligibility in the first
place (see Examiner, Spring 1987 and Fall 1994).
The results of this preliminary research were
reconfirmed by subsequent NCAA studies which concluded that "the
use of a fixed minimum on any single indicator at virtually any
level is not psychometrically sound and can lead to serious adverse
impacts." The NCAA's data looked at how Prop. 48 would have affected
those student-athletes who entered college the two years before
the rule went into effect and who went on to graduate within five
In 1994, the McIntosh Commission, a panel of
independent scholars, reviewed this data and concluded that African
American student-athletes in this pool would have been declared
ineligible at a rate six times as high as the rate for white student-athletes.
Commission members concluded that Prop. 48 discriminates against
minority, female, and lower-income student-athletes (see Examiner,
NCAA policymakers consistently rejected these
and other findings, first when they approved Prop. 48 and later
when they approved a further tightening of the rules under Prop.
16. With funding from the McIntosh Foundation, FairTest created
the Campaign for Fair Play in Student-Athlete Admissions in 1994
to organize efforts to lobby the NCAA for change.
Together with the Black Coaches Association and
other opponents of the test score requirements, FairTest worked
to reform the rules through the NCAA legislative process. However,
the NCAA leadership opposed even the most minor adjustments to
the initial eligibility requirements, with one modest exception
at the association's 1997 Convention (see related story and Examiner,
Winter 1994-95 and Fall/Winter 1995-96).
The NCAA's repeated rejection of the advice of
its own researchers left Prop. 16 critics and frustrated student-athletes
no choice but to file suit and ask the courts to halt this illegal
use of a test score cutoff.
Under Title VI, the courts will apply a three-stage
test to determine legality. First, the plaintiffs must show that
the challenged requirement has a racially disproportionate impact.
If such a showing is made, the defendant must then prove that
the requirement is dictated by educational necessity. Finally,
if the defendant meets it burden, the plaintiff can still prevail
by showing that another, equally effective alternative requirement
would have less of a racial impact. In Cureton v NCAA, Trial Lawyers
for Public Justice asserts that the NCAA's requirement is unnecessary
and that there are superior alternative rules that do not discriminate
against African Americans.
The case will be heard by U.S. District Judge
Andre Dennis, of Philadelphia's Stradley, Ronon,
Stevens & Young, LLP, and David Schoen, who has his own practice
on New York City, are serving as co-lead counsels. Adele Kimmel,
a staff attorney at TLPJ, has assembled much of the case and will
serve as co-counsel. Richard Cohen, Legal Director of the Southern
Poverty Law Center will also be part of the legal team.
"Race discrimination lawsuit filed against NCAA test-score rules." Fair Test Examiner Win. 1996.