A Sensible Proposition
It wouldn't be an NCAA convention without litigation, and the court case that was a hot subject at the meetings this week in Nashville is a beauty. A class-action suit filed in Federal court in Philadelphia by an all-star array of lawyers contends that oft-assailed Proposition 16 (originally known as Prop 48) violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The suit was filed by two former high school track stars from Philadelphia, Tai Kwan Cureton and Leatrice Shaw. Both are African-American, and both were honor students who graduated in 1996 from an inner-city school. Both had good enough grades in their core courses to satisfy Prop 16 requirements but failed to reach the necessary standard on the SAT; thus, they were declared ineligible to compete as freshmen at any Division I school. The suit alleges that most major colleges then lost interest in Cureton and Shaw. Cureton is now a freshman at a Division III school, Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., where he is running track. Shaw is a freshman on an athletic scholarship at Miami; she won't be allowed to compete until next year, and she'll have only three years of eligibility.
Like Cureton and Shaw, the vast majority of student-athletes who fail to meet Prop 16 requirements are black, and the lawsuit argues that the NCAA's reliance on SATs and ACTs—racially biased tests, the suit states—disproportionately denies opportunities to African-Americans. The suit isn't likely to go away; the lawyers who filed it are a determined bunch who in 1995 won a court fight to get Brown University to comply with Title IX stipulations, a decision that was recently upheld in appeal. But the NCAA did move to eliminate one point of contention. On the table in Nashville was a proposal called—don't wince—Proposition 68, to keep "partial" academic qualifiers ineligible as freshmen but grant them a fourth year of eligibility. The freshman year would become, in effect, an academic redshirt year in which to focus on classwork without having to give up a year of sports eligibility. Late Monday the measure passed, though only by a 173-145 vote. The provision might be a first step toward staving off what could become an ugly court battle.