What's Wrong with Proposition 48 and 16?

What is Proposition 16?

Proposition 16 governs the NCAA’s initial eligibility requirements for student-athletes at more than 300 Division I colleges and universities. Implemented in 1995, Prop. 16 is a more restrictive successor to Proposition 48, which went into effect in 1986. High school graduates who do not meet Prop. 16’s requirements are precluded from participating in intercollegiate competition and may be denied athletic scholarships. To qualify for full eligibility, student-athletes must have a 2.0 grade-point average (GPA) in 13 approved academic “core” courses and an SAT of 1010 or a combined ACT of 86. Students with lower test scores need higher core course GPAs. The minimum test score for students with a GPA of 2.5 or higher is 820 SAT/68 ACT. A modified version of Prop. 16 applies for student-athletes at the 254 Division II NCAA schools.

What’s wrong with Prop. 16?

NCAA data on student-athletes’ academic performance prior to the 1986 implementation of Prop. 48 reveal the discriminatory impact of these rules. The data, reanalyzed by the McIntosh Commission on Fair Play in Student-Athlete Admissions, show that had Prop. 48 been in effect in 1984 and 1985, it would have denied full eligibility to 47% of the African American student-athletes who went on to graduate, but just 8% of the white student-athletes. More recent NCAA research shows that the test score requirement disqualifies African American student-athletes at a rate 9-10 times the rate for white students.


The NCAA’s own research shows that prior to Prop. 48 the graduation rate for African American and white student-athletes, male and female, was higher than the rate for their nonathlete counterparts. That remains true today. On this measure, athletes were already satisfying the academic standards of their respective colleges and universities without NCAA intervention. The NCAA’s procedures preempt the authority of academic officials and state legislatures to set individual institutional policies on student access to funds and resources.

Ignores NCAA’s Own Research Findings:

The NCAA’s researchers found that the “use of a fixed minimum on any single indicator is not psychometrically sound,” but this conclusion was ignored in Propositions 48 and 16. They also questioned the use of a rule with both GPA and test score cutoffs which they correctly predicted would lead to a “negative and disproportionate impact on minority students.” NCAA researchers also warned that, overall, twice as many students would be excluded by their test scores as by their GPAs, and that this imbalance would be even worse for minority and low-income student-athletes.

Violates Testmakers’ Guidelines:

The use of test cutoff scores is a questionable practice, exaggerating the importance of small score differences (a 10-point gap on the SAT, for example, may result from only one additional item answered incorrectly). This is a particular problem for a test like the SAT where two scores must differ by at least 120 points before they can be assumed to indicate differing levels of ability.

Both the College Board (the sponsor of the SAT) and the Educational Testing Service (which administers the SAT) have long been on record with their concerns about “using minimum test scores without proper validation” and “making decisions about otherwise qualified students based only on small differences in test score.”

In 1989, then-ETS President Gregory Anrig stated that the Prop. 48 cutoff score “is not based on any validity study and was apparently simply an arbitrary choice that has yet to be explained by anyone.” Eight years later, a College Board vice pesident who oversees research and development told the Washington Post that the original Prop. 48 standards were set arbitrarily and “ratcheted up” since then without scientific evidence of their value. “We’ve been concerned about the use of sliding scales not set empirically by research. We’ve said that to the NCAA,” he noted.

Harms Low-Income Students:

Using an SAT cut score disproportionately harms low-income students, as explained by sports ethicist Russ Gough:

“There is a strong correlation between family income and standardized test scores. The NCAA’s own studies have completely ignored this well-documented and well-known correlation. The upshot here is that, under the present rule structure, the NCAA might as well throw out its standardized test score requirements and simply allow a freshman to play or not play on the basis of his family’s income.” (“A Sporting Chance,” Washington Post, Tues. Nov. 29, 1995, p. A22)

In July 1995 the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics found that Prop. 48’s test score cutoff would deny full eligibility to more than one-third of lower-income students — despite their success in the classroom. For higher-income students that figure was just one-tenth.

Inconsistent with Test Score Optional Policies

Nationally, more than 280 4-year colleges and universities do not the SAT or ACT to make admissions decisions, a number that grows each year. These schools have concluded that standardized tests do not offer them useful information about the academic promise of many of their applicants. In Texas, for example, students who finish in the top 10% of their high school classes will be automatically admitted to public universities in Texas. Despite their academic achievements in high school, student-athletes might lose athletic aid or eligibility if their test scores fall short of NCAA requirements.

A National Academy of Sciences report warns, “. . . the undoubted effect of imperfect prediction when social groups have different average test scores is to place the burden of prediction error on the shoulders of the lower scoring group. Is this fair? In the final analysis, we think not.”