Group sues NCAA over eligibility rules – National Collegiate Alhletic Association – includes related article

Black Students Unfairly Affected, Suit says

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has been hit
with a lawsuit that charges that the association discriminates against
Blacks by using freshman academic standards that are racially and
culturally biased.

The Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ) filed the class action
suit against the NCAA in a Philadelphia federal court alleging that the
use of the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or the American College
Test (ACT) violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which
prohibits race discrimination by educational institutions receiving
federal funds.

The suit was filed on behalf of two 1996 graduates of
Philadelphia’s Simon Gratz High School. Tai Kwan Cureton and Leatrice
Shaw claim they were recruited for track teams at numerous NCAA
Division I institutions, but the recruiting stopped after they received
low test scores.

Under NCAA regulations, in order to compete as freshmen, student
athletes must meet a sliding scale of SAT or ACT scores and grade-point
average. The minimum acceptable SAT combined math and verbal score is
820. Athletes who fall short of the standards cannot compete as
freshmen. The NCAA adopted the rules, known as Proposition 48, ten
years ago because of dismal graduation rates by student athletes,
particularly Blacks.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction prohibiting the NCAA from enforcing
the minimum test score requirement and forcing it to allow affected
student athletes to regain their lost years of athletic eligibility.
The NCAA responded to the suit by saying that the standards are in
place to prevent the exploitation of student athletes.

“Before the eligibility standards, some student athletes, including
minority student athletes, were brought to campus solely for their
athletic ability, with little chance for them to graduate,” said Dan
Boggan, chief operating officer of the association. “The Trial Lawyers
for Public Justice, with its lawsuit, is advocating a return to the bad
old days when student athletes could spend four years representing an
NCAA member institution in athletics and leaving not only with no
diploma but without any real education at all.”

TLPJ attorney Adele Kimmel responded by saying, “The NCAA’s goal of
ensuring academic integrity in college sports is admirable, but that
desirable end doesn’t justify the means. Using these test scores to
reach that goal is like using a butter knife to perform surgery. The
minimum test score requirement violates federal civil rights law.”

The NCAA focused its response to the allegations of racial
discrimination by noting that the controversial academic standards are
for the protection of student athletes.

“The standards were put in place because of our concern about
graduation rates for student athletes, including minority student
athletes,” said Charles Whitcomb, a professor at San Jose State
University as well as a member of the NCAA Academic Requirements
Committee and chair of the NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests
Committee. “And, in fact, as a result of the standards, more African
American student athletes graduate each year than did before the

According to an NCAA report released the same day the lawsuit was
announced, graduation rates for Black student athletes have improved
dramatically and are higher than their non-athlete counterparts.
Graduation rates rose seven percentage points, from 34 percent to 41
percent for Black male student athletes in the year just after the
standards went into effect. In contrast, Black male students that same
year had a 30 percent graduation rate.

The NCAA said Blacks made up 27.3 percent of all student athletes
entering college in 1985, a rate that dropped to 23.6 percent by 1986.
By 1989, Blacks comprised 25 percent of student athletes.

“We had a diminution of numbers of African American student
athletes when we went from pre-Proposition 48 to Prop 48,” said Ursula
Walsh, NCAA director of research. “But we predicted the numbers would
come back, and they have.”

The NCAA says its research proves that a combination of grade-point
average and test scores is the best predictor of graduation, explaining
that the use of grade-point average alone is unreliable because of
possible grade inflation.

Cureton, who now attends Wheaton College, a Division III
institution, said, “The NCAA emphasis is wrong, and it is hurting
hundreds of athletes like myself.” Cureton, who had a 3.78 GPA in high
school and finished 27th in his class, said he decided to sue “because
I don’t want others to go through what I’ve been through. “

Wheaton doesn’t offer athletic scholarships and Cureton says the
academic standards cheated him out of competing in Division I, the top
competitive division.

Shaw, who finished fifth in her class, enrolled at the University
of Miami, but cannot compete as a freshman. She will have only three
years athletic eligibility, as opposed to the four years other student
athletes get.

The uses of standardized test scores has long been opposed by
numerous organizations, including the Educational Testing Service
(ETS), which designed the SAT. ETS criticized the NCAA’s use of a fixed
cutoff score to determine eligibility, warning that it would have a
disproportionate impact on Black student athletes.

Despite ETS’s objection, in 1986 the NCAA adopted the rules, including the test scores.

A study by the NCAA proved ETS correct in its prediction. The
association’s study showed the 47 percent of Black student athletes who
started college before the rules were adopted — and who graduated from
college — would have been ineligible to receive athletic scholarships
and compete as freshmen because they didn’t meet the minimum test score
requirement. Only 8 percent of white athletes would have been
ineligible because of the test scores.

The McIntosh Commission for Fair Play in Student-Athlete
Admissions, a group of independent scholars formed to study NCAA
research, concluded in 1994 that the rules are biased against Blacks
and students from poor socio-economic backgrounds and unfairly denied
education opportunities for thousands, including those likely to

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), an
organization which argues against what it calls the unfair use of
standardized tests, also has criticized the use of those tests,
especially the cut-off score. Charles Rooney, a FairTest spokesman,
said the cut-off scores are “completely arbitrary, supported only by
such cynical public relations justifications as the assertion that the
public would not accept a lower score.”

The Black Coaches Association (BCA) has also lobbied long and hard
against use of the standardized test scores. Rudy Washington, executive
director of the BCA, saw the lawsuit as a positive step in promoting
educational opportunities for Blacks. “We were the genesis of this
action, so it is good people are seeing the same thing we are,” he
said. “All we’ve ever been about is opportunity.”

Temple University basketball coach and BCA member John Chaney has
also been outspoken in opposition to the initial eligibility
requirements and applauded the lawsuit. “We were just beaten down,” he
said. “So many educators have reached the arrogant stage. It’s
difficult to get them to move to help the young people.”

NCAA Executive Director Cedric Dempsey said that the academic
standards “do not affect whether a student athlete can be admitted to
any institution or study there. They only affect whether or not a
student athlete can compete on an intercollegiate level during their
freshman year in Division I or II. In fact, both plaintiffs in this
lawsuit are attending college now despite not meeting the standards.”

The NCAA has 20 days from the day it is served to respond to the
lawsuit. Under Title VI and its implementing regulations, the courts
apply a three-part test to determine the legality of the suit.

First, plaintiffs Cureton and Shaw must demonstrate that the test
score requirement has a racially biased impact. If that can be
determined, the NCAA must then show that the test scores fill an
educational need.

If the NCAA meets that burden, the plaintiff could still win by
showing that there are other equally effective requirements that don’t
have a disproportionate racial impact. The Trial Lawyers for Public
Justice claim there are several alternatives to the test scores that
are better and do not discriminate.

The TLPJ are best known for successfully representing women in
Title IX cases, including a precedent-setting one against Brown

RELATED ARTICLE: Who are the Plaintiffs?

The plaintiffs in the suit against the NCAA are described in the lawsuit as follows:

Plaintiff TAI KWAN CURETON is a citizen of the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania. He is an African American who graduated from Simon Gratz
High School in June of 1996 and ranked twenty-seventh in a class of
305. He earned academic honors and athletic honors in his sport, track.
Cureton exceeded the NCAA’s minimum GPA requirement in the core
curriculum courses he took at Simon Gratz High School. He took the SAT,
but did not attain the minimum score required by Proposition 16 [the
academic standards rule formerly known as Proposition 48]. Cureton was
recruited by several Division I schools prior to obtaining his
non-qualifying SAT score. Because of Proposition 16, he was recruited
less by Division I schools and/or not admitted to or offered athletic
financial aid by any Division I schools. Cureton is now a freshman at
Wheaton College, a Division III school, where he is competing on the
track team. Because of Proposition 16, Cureton has lost the opportunity
to compete as a freshman in intercollegiate athletics at a Division I

Plaintiff Leatrice Shaw is a citizen of the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania She is an African American who graduated from Simon Gratz
High School in June of 1996 and ranked fifth in a class of 305. She was
a member of the National Honor Society, and earned academic honors and
athletic honors in her sport, track. She took the SAT, but did not
attain the minimum score required by Proposition 16. Shaw was recruited
by many Division I schools while she was in high school. However,
because of Proposition 16’s test score requirement, she was offered
athletic financial aid by only one Division I school, the University of
Miami, which she now attends, but is not permitted to compete on the
track team during her freshman year. Because of the minimum test score
requirement of Proposition 16, Shaw has lost a year of eligibility to
compete in intercollegiate athletics.

Charles S. Farrell, a frequent contributor to Black Issues In Higher
Education, is director of the Rainbow Coalition’s Fairness in Athletics.

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