NCAA Considers New Test Score Rule

University Testing

Despite being hit earlier this year with a race discrimination lawsuit over its use of test score cutoffs (see Examiner, Winter 1997), the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) continues to push new rules that would base important eligibility decisions on minimum SAT and ACT scores.


When the initial eligibility rule, Proposition 16, went into effect last August, incoming student-athletes were required to have taken four years of high school English courses acceptable to the NCAA, up from the three required under Prop. 16's predecessor, Prop. 48. Many student-athletes are now falling short of that requirement, in part because the NCAA rejects many nontraditional English course offerings.


Facing widespread criticism and a flood of lawsuits from student-athletes challenging the association's authority to decide which courses are acceptable, the NCAA's Academic Requirements Committee recommended granting a limited number of automatic waivers. These would be given to student-athletes who are no more than one English credit short and have at least a 3.3 core course grade-point average, but only if they score at least 540 on the SAT Verbal or 23 on the ACT English test.


According to the College Board's annual Profile of College-Bound Seniors, fewer than one-sixth of African American students score higher than 560 on the verbal portion of the SAT. NCAA and National Center for Education Statistics data show that test scores for athletes and nonathletes are similar. Since Division I graduation rates for African American student-athletes are now 46 percent -- and rising -- the proposed automatic waiver would likely be unavailable to a large majority of the African American student-athletes who are achieving academic success and going on to graduate. Past NCAA research has already demonstrated that using a strict test score cutoff for eligibility decisions harms academically qualified African Americans.


By imposing new test score requirements, the NCAA may hope to simplify its waiver process, and avoid costly, protracted litigation. However, the new cutoffs will put minority student-athletes at a further disadvantage.