Test Score Cutoffs Eliminated for NCAA Eligibility

K-12 Testing

A two-decade-long struggle to stop the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) from relying on racially biased and educationally unjustified SAT and ACT cutoff scores to determine who can participate in interscholastic sports and receive scholarships has finally come to an end. For student-athletes entering college in summer 2003 and thereafter, an eligibility formula combining high school grade point average and test scores will replace arbitrary minimum test score requirements of 820 on the SAT or a combined score of 68 on the four-part ACT.


The new “sliding scale” will allow strong classroom performance in high school to offset low test scores. For students with grade point averages midway between A and B on the standard marking scale, only the lowest possible SAT or ACT score — obtainable simply by filling in the bubbles on answer sheets randomly or even leaving every item blank — will be necessary. Enrollees with high school grade point averages of B- (2.75) or better will also face significantly lower test score hurdles than in the past (see chart). For those with lower grades, SAT/ACT requirements are unchanged.


The NCAA policy change, which was approved by the association’s Board of Directors, represents a major victory for minority coaches, civil rights activists, and test reformers. Over the years, FairTest has played a central role in this effort. The very first volume of this newsletter, published more than 15 years ago, included an article revealing the huge disparate impact of what the NCAA then called Proposition 48 on African American student-athletes (see Examiner, Summer 1987). With the generous assistance of the McIntosh Foundation, FairTest then researched and produced a widely publicized report demonstrating that the NCAA’s rules were contradicted by its own internal research reports (see Examiner, Fall 1994). Two years later, FairTest helped initiate a lawsuit brought by Trial Lawyers for Public Justice that challenged the NCAA’s rules under federal civil rights laws. A U.S. District Court judge found that “the racially adverse impact caused by the SAT cutoff score is not justified by any legitimate educational necessity” (see Examiner, Spring 2002), but the decision was overturned on a procedural technicality. FairTest also attended half a dozen annual NCAA conventions to help educate the association membership and work with allied groups to press for elimination of the SAT/ACT cutoff.


Ironically, incoming NCAA President Myles Brand praised the new rules with language similar to that used by reformers over the years. Brand told the Washington Post, “I know from being president of Indiana University that the single best predictor — the single most important predictor of success in college — is high school performance in academic core courses ...The message being sent to young men and women who want to succeed in intercollegiate athletics is that they need to do well academically in high school . . . That’s what’s going to tell us whether they graduate or not.”


The new eligibility rules also increase the number of high school core courses incoming student-athletes must have completed from 13 to 14 and set “continuing progress” requirements for undergraduates to boost the percentage who earn college degrees.


 New NCAA “Sliding Scale” Initial Eligibility Index
(effective August 2003)
 Core Course GPA  SAT V + M  ACT Combined
 3.55 or higher  400  37
 3.50  420  39
 3.25  520  46
 3.00  620  52
 2.75  720  59
 2.50  820  68
 2.25  920  77
 2.00  1010  86

Source: NCAA Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse