NCAA Rejects Change in Test Score Use

University Testing

After several months of hinting at possible changes to its controversial minimum test score requirements, the National Collegiate Athletic Association's (NCAA) Academic/Eligibility/ Compliance Cabinet voted instead to reject any modification of the freshman eligibility rule known as Proposition 16.


Earlier this year, NCAA Executive Director Cedric Dempsey had expressed support for ending the association's widely criticized use of test score cutoffs to determine eligibility for athletic competition and scholarships (see Examiner, Summer 1998). In presentations to such organizations as the Black Coaches Association, which has long opposed the fixed score cutoffs, Demspey and other NCAA officials cited new studies that highlighted once again the particularly harsh impact of the test score requirements on minority and low-income student-athletes. These studies also showed that student-athletes who fell short of the test score cutoffs did just as well in their college classes as those who scored above the cutoffs.


At its September meeting, the NCAA's Academic Eligibility Cabinet, after surveying association members, rejected three proposals to modify Prop. 16, including one put forward by the NCAA's Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee. Instead the Cabinet voted to retain current test score requirements that award full athletic eligibility and aid only to first-year student-athletes who score 820 or higher on the SAT (or 68 and above as a composite score on the ACT), regardless of their performance in their high school classes. In August, the Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee had voted to endorse a full sliding scale that would have eliminated the minimum test score requirements and based eligibility decisions for all student-athletes on a combination of test scores and high school grade-point average. This approach had been recommended by past NCAA committees as well as by NCAA researchers.


Despite powerful evidence about Proposition 16's disparate impact on minority and low-income student-athletes, and even in the face of criticisms by testmakers that Prop. 16 represents an improper use of college admissions tests (see Examiner, Summer 1998, Spring 1998), the NCAA has again dismissed even modest reform efforts.


In May 1999, however, the NCAA will have to defend its position in federal court when the class-action, race discrimination lawsuit, Cureton v. NCAA, goes to trial -- if the case makes it that far (see Examiner, Winter 1997). In October, plaintiffs' attorneys filed a motion asking for summary judgement. In their filing, Trial Lawyers for Public Justice cited the NCAA's survey and accompanying memorandum to member schools, which acknowledged that Prop. 16 has had a disparate impact on minority student-athletes and that the proposed alternatives would have lessened the harm done to minority student-athletes without signficantly reducing projected Division I graduation rates.