It was hard to argue with the original intention of Proposition 48 when it took effect in 1986: to toughen academic standards for student-athletes and, presumably, increase the likelihood that they would graduate. A recently released NCAA academic study shows that 58% of student-athletes who entered college in 1988 had graduated in six years. By contrast, only 52% of incoming freshmen in '85, the year before the proposition was enacted, had earned degrees in that same time frame. Dismayingly, however, the study also shows that the percentage of scholarships going to black freshman athletes during that same period dropped from 27.6% to 23.2%. The NCAA had anticipated an initial downturn as struggling high school student-athletes, particularly those who attend predominantly black, inner-city schools, adjusted to these new academic standards. Within 10 years, the NCAA assured its critics, this trend would reverse itself.
Perhaps it would have. But the NCAA has chosen not to see its 10-year plan through. Starting in 1996, Prop 48 will, at the behest of the NCAA Presidents Commission, give way to Prop 16, which raises the requisite SAT score from 700 to 820 and calls for a 2.5 GPA over 13 core courses. Principals of the Black Coaches Association have insistently complained that Prop 16, like Prop 48, is biased against black athletes. At the very least, a survey of Prop 48 over a 10-year period—as opposed to a three-year one—would have helped clarify the debate over the issue. With the even more controversial Prop 16 in the offing, college sports will no doubt become a house more divided.
Renewed discussion of Prop 16 should be a priority at the NCAA's executive committee meeting next month. Even college presidents can make mistakes.
Sinking to New Depths
No athlete has ever taken a dive quite like Francisco (Pipin) Ferreras. Last December, the 33-year-old Cuban expatriate set a world record by plunging 417 feet beneath the waves of the Atlantic off Miami on a single breath of air. On July 30 the world's deepest diver will attempt a 420-foot descent off the coast of Sicily, which would put him some 20 yards above the cruising depth of nuclear submarines.
In Europe free diving is called apnea (Latin for asphyxia), and the 6'3", 220-pound Ferreras is revered as a sort of underwater Evil Knievel. A former member of the Cuban swim team, Ferreras began probing the Big Blue while spearing fish in Matanzas Bay on Cuba's north coast. The deeper he dove, the bigger the fish. In 1987 he impressed a bunch of vacationing Italian journalists by harpooning grouper at 200 feet. Two years later Ferreras was invited to an apnea tournament in Italy. His world-record dive of 343 feet that year apparently touched the Italian government deeply: He was awarded honorary citizenship.
Ferreras has since moved to Key Largo, Fla., and set 15 more records. Now he's ready to swim with the subs: Wearing fins and a hooded wet suit, he'll board a 90-g pound sled that slides along a cable anchored to the ocean floor. Entering a kind of fragile trance, he'll close his eyes and disappear into the cold, crushing darkness. Ferreras says, "I pull my soul out of my body."
Where that leaves his ears is anybody's guess. Ferreras must constantly equalize them to relieve pressure that will quickly build to 200 pounds per square inch. He will stop when he reaches a knot in the cable at 420 feet, where a camera crew will be waiting in a dive bell to document the moment. Then he'll inflate a balloonlike air bag that will launch him to the surface. The round-trip should take about 2� minutes.
Ferreras, who can hold his breath for seven minutes, conserves oxygen by slowing his heart rate from 60 beats per minute at the surface to three or four at the bottom. The ascent is the diciest part. The decreasing pressure as he approaches shallow waters expands his chest cavity, which can cause him to black out. "It's easy to forget to breathe out," he says.