NCAA Test Score Requirements Hurt Minority, Low-Income Student-Athletes

University Testing

New data from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) confirm the harsh im-pact on minority and low-income student-athletes of stricter new test score requirements faced by college freshmen seeking the right to compete and earn athletic aid at NCAA schools.


According to NCAA Research Report 97-02, 26.9 percent of recruited Division I African American student-athletes in the 1996 high school senior class fell short of the NCAA's freshman eligibility core course and test score requirements, known as Proposition 16. More than half of those, 14.3 percent, scored below the ACT/SAT cutoff. In contrast, just 1.4 percent of white student-athletes failed to meet NCAA test score requirements.


The 1996 high school senior class was the first to face the more stringent requirements of Prop. 16, the successor to Prop. 48, which governs initial athletic eligibility at nearly 600 NCAA Division I and II schools (see Examiner, Fall 1995). Earlier NCAA data on Prop. 48, first implemented in 1985, revealed that successful African American student-athletes (those who graduated from college within 6 years) were nearly eight times as likely to be declared ineligible under NCAA rules as were their white counterparts.


The most recent NCAA report also revealed a striking gap between the eligibility rates for low-income students and those from more affluent families. While one out of nine student-athletes with family incomes below $30,000 missed the test score cutoff, just one out of 120 student-athletes with incomes above $80,000 scored below the eligibility level.


Legislators Respond

These findings, which confirm predictions by Prop. 16 critics such as FairTest, helped prompt a group of Texas State legislators to write the NCAA criticizing Prop. 16's test score requirements. Last year, Texas passed a law granting the top ten percent of its high school graduates automatic admission to the state's public universities, regardless of their test scores (see Examiner, Summer 1997). That ten percent is likely to include some student-athletes who, despite their accomplishments in the classroom, will be barred from competing as freshmen solely because of their standardized test scores.


The legislators who signed the letter, including the author of the ten percent law, warned the NCAA that Prop. 16's "heavy reliance on standardized test scores is inconsistent with the spirit and letter of Texas state law governing public university admissions and will disproportionately burden minority and lower-income student-athletes."


To date, the NCAA has shown no willingness to back down from its commitment to using ACT/SAT cutoff scores, but a federal class action race discrimination lawsuit filed in January 1997 (see Examiner, Winter 1996-97) may force its hand. Although the NCAA has argued in that case that, as a private organization, it is not bound by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, a judge in another case in the same federal circuit ruled that the NCAA must adhere to a parallel law, Title IX.


The race discrimination case, Cureton v. NCAA, is scheduled to go to trial in Philadelphia, in January 1999.