Originally created 03/10/99

NCAA will fight judge's ruling in eligibility case



The NCAA will fight a ruling that struck down test-score requirements for freshmen athletes as unfair to blacks, saying the judge's decision could create chaos at its member colleges.

The governing body of college sports on Wednesday will file a stay to the ruling and also will appeal, Elsa Cole, NCAA general counsel, said Tuesday. She expects a response from the judge "within a day or two."

District Judge Ronald Buckwalter in Philadelphia ruled Monday that the NCAA may not use a minimum test score to eliminate freshmen student-athletes from eligibility. He cited the NCAA's own research showing that the practice harmed black students' chances of being declared academically eligible.

The policy, known as Proposition 16, required the athletes to have a minimum score of 820 on the Scholastic Assessment Test regardless of their high school grades. The ruling did not rule out some use of the tests, which many educators have long said are racially and culturally discriminatory.

"We are encouraged by the court's acknowledgment that the initial eligibility standards ... serve a legitimate educational goal," said Charles Wethington, president at Kentucky and head of the NCAA's executive committee.

"In addition, the judge has not precluded use of the SAT or ACT as a part of an initial eligibility rule. The challenge for the NCAA remains as it has always been: to develop standards to meet that goal."

Also Tuesday, the NCAA announced a settlement on another divisive issue. It agreed to pay $54.5 million to about 2,000 Division I coaches who had sued over the so-called restricted-earnings rule, which had capped their salaries at $12,000 for an academic year.

A judge had struck down the rule as unfair in 1995 and both sides had been fighting over a settlement ever since.

Without Proposition 16, the 302 Division I schools would be on their own in determining which freshmen would be academically eligible to play sports. Some administrators and officials worried that could create chaos.

"It means that there is no standard to guide the schools," Cole said. "Each school will have to decide itself whether a student can play the first year."

Chuck Neinas, former head of the College Football Association and one of the authors of Proposition 48, a forerunner of the current rule, called the judge's decision a "giant step backward."

Not everyone agreed, however.

"The only way to regulate this is within the university themselves," said Utah basketball coach Rick Majerus. "Each university has a different mission, with Stanford's mission being different than a community college and so on."

Former Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson, who boycotted two games in 1989 over Proposition 48, said students should be evaluated individually instead of being judged solely by a standardized test.

"I never said you shouldn't use SAT scores," he said, "but I did say you shouldn't misuse SAT scores, and all along we have, as we generated statistics trying to fool the world."

Many colleges do not use a minimum test score to determine admission for students who are not athletes. Instead, a combination of test scores, grades, application essays and in-person interviews is considered.

The average for all 1.2 million students who took the test last year was 1,017. The highest possible SAT score is 1,600.

Until a stay is granted, athletes sitting out their freshman year because they failed to meet the test requirements are free to play. That could include some whose teams are in the men's and women's Division I tournaments beginning this week.

NCAA officials said they did not know how many there might be, but one, Temple basketball player Alexander Wesby, was one of the four plaintiffs in the suit which Buckwalter ruled on. He was not expected to play in the tournament, however.