FUROR IN SAN DIEGO: A TESTING PROBLEM FOR THE NCAA
Joe Paterno of Penn State became the focus of heated debate in San Diego last week at the NCAA's annual convention when he made an impassioned speech in favor of the suddenly controversial Proposal 48. Many presidents of historically black colleges opposed Proposal 48, which says that beginning in August 1986, to be eligible for varsity competition an incoming athlete must have scored at least 700 on his SATs (or 15 on his ACTs) and have had a 2.0 high school average in a specific number of college preparatory courses. The black-college presidents charged that tests like the SATs and ACTs are culturally biased against blacks (about 56% of black high school students attain SAT scores below 700) and that under Proposal 48 black-college athletes would have to have higher scores than other students.
The black opposition moved Paterno to say, "It's unfortunate we're talking black and white. I hope this doesn't ruin our friendship, but it's for your own good. I have 33 years' experience at an institution that is predominantly white, but I have had the privilege of working with great black players. I'm really surprised to see black leaders standing here and selling their black students down the river, selling them short. They underestimate these young people and what great competitors they are. I have no doubt that if an SAT score of 700 is needed, and they have the time to prepare, they will compete and they will succeed.... We've told black kids who bounce balls, run around tracks and catch touchdown passes that that is an end unto itself. We've raped them. We can't afford to do it to another generation."
In effect, Proposal 48, which passed overwhelmingly, is telling high schools to upgrade their academic preparation of college-bound athletes. It's hard to fault that idea, but the largely black institutions have good reason to feel threatened. Dr. Jesse Stone Jr., president of Southern University, charged that adoption of test scores as a determinant for athletic eligibility was racially motivated. "I know it was racist," said Stone. " Paterno sounded to me like many people afflicted with paternalism in our part of the country. They think they know more about us than we do." Dr. Joseph B. Johnson, president of Grambling, added, "There were no black institutions involved in this [the drafting of Proposal 48], but they're talking about black athletes.... I was offended by Coach Paterno this morning. He doesn't know anything about blacks.
"I think a message has been sent to black athletes across this country," Johnson said. "There's just too many of you on America's athletic teams." As if to concur, Athletic Director Neale Stoner of Illinois, who is white, said, "As 48 stands now, we'll have an all-white football team."
Paterno said, "I'm sorry about this. I had no intention to insult anyone. I think they're overreacting. If we find that some of the things aren't right, we're ready to modify it."
And some blacks support Proposal 48. Charles Harris, Pennsylvania's athletic director, says, "The legislation may not be perfect, but it's timely. The NCAA had to show the public it was willing to make a stand." Sociology Professor Harry Edwards of the University of California, who was a leader of militant black athletes in the 1960s, says, "While I understand the concern of other black educators, I believe that their objections...are misguided. I believe also that they underestimate the intellectual capabilities of black athletes.... Dumb jocks are not born, they're systematically created." SI Writer-Reporter Roger Jackson says, "Black colleges are telling black people that only white people can expect quality performance from their children and teachers. Our black educators once were a source of hope. They were for members of my family. But being against this proposal is naive and self-destructive. I don't want anyone, black or white, telling me that I or my children can never achieve."
But Dr. Robert Randolph, president of Alabama State, another predominantly black college, points out what he feels is a basic flaw in Proposal 48: "The NCAA is saying, 'These are the admission standards for athletes. We don't care what they are for other students.' This is discriminatory. An awful lot of students are given awards based on skills that are not athletic—musicians, the girl you see dancing at halftime. They are awarded scholarships for their talents, and this rule doesn't apply to them. This is not to deny the philosophic thrust of what the NCAA is trying to do—that is, to correct the wrongdoings that have occurred. Some institutions have done this very well. Some have not. But it ought to be corrected by the individual institutions. I can't argue with the NCAA's wish to set rules, but academic qualification is the responsibility of an institution's board of trustees."
Randolph's view is an old and in some ways worthy one—the Ivy League used it for years to argue against the NCAA's setting of academic standards. His words should be taken into account as Proposal 48 is modified, as it certainly will be, over the next couple of years. The NCAA is right to attempt to cure academic abuses, but in so doing it should make room for institutions that serve special missions, as the predominantly black colleges do, to fulfill their aims and still participate in Division I sports.