ATHENS, Ga. -- If the University of Georgia abolishes racial preferences in admissions, the school could revert to the days when most black students came mainly to play for the school's revenue sports, black leaders meeting in Athens said this weekend.
The Northeast Georgia Black Leadership Council met in emergency session and vowed to oppose the end of affirmative action for University of Georgia applicants, especially if lower entrance standards for athletes remain on the books.
"We can't stand back and let the predominantly white institutions get the best of both worlds," said Dexter Wimbish, the council's executive director. "They're going to be able to exclude our brightest kids, but at the same time recruit our best athletes."
"We wish the Bulldogs well," said William Breeding, a retired principal from Greene County who chairs the education committee of the Georgia NAACP. "At the same time, we don't want the university to make room for the football players and not those other kids."
Whether the school will drop race as an entrance factor is subject to an ongoing review since a federal judge ruled in July that the state's flagship university wrongly awards bonus points to minority applicants.
A decision is expected late this month or early next month.
University President Michael Adams said last month that advisers have told him he's on sound legal ground with special admissions, which allows talented students -- including athletes -- to enter below prevailing university entrance standards.
Atlanta attorney Lee Parks has said that policy is ripe for a federal challenge because more male athletes gain admittance under it than female athletes.
Mr. Parks' latest lawsuit, filed by three women in U.S. District Court in Savannah, contends that the university's 1999 admissions practices were unconstitutional because they provided bonus points to blacks and male applicants.
The black leadership council, which represents seven counties, agreed Saturday to draft a letter to the University System Board of Regents demanding the university continue to give bonus points to minority applicants.
They'll also lobby for their cause at a meeting of the NAACP in Macon at the end of the month.
For the council members, the meeting highlighted a leadership void on affirmative action in communities outside Atlanta. The session drew only nine members.
Some of those complained about the difficultly of mobilizing neighbors around the complex issue.
"Most of the ones I know are too busy trying to feed their babies," said Lucy Grider-Bradley of Kennesaw. "They're not worried about what's happening at the university level."
"Some people are afraid to speak out," Mr. Wimbish said. "We're just sitting back and taking it."
It's a difficult subject to tackle for Georgians who don't see a problem with running a high school program that shortchanges athletes academically, said Bobby Hunt, an Elberton city councilman who works with a program aiding students in alternative schools.
Mr. Hunt said he encountered hostility at a recent meeting when he pointed out that a local high school student deemed uneducable by the schools was being allowed to work by day and play on the football team in the afternoon.
"They will let that child play football and not work on his mental capabilities," he said. "These are 40- to 45-year-old people saying this."
Most students are admitted to University of Georgia based only on grades and standardized test scores. For borderline students -- who make up 10 to 20 percent of admissions -- the university has awarded extra points to students in several categories, including students from poor school districts and the children of alumni.
Blacks, who make up 6 percent of the student body but 28 percent of the state population, also get a slight advantage. A male preference was dropped this fall.