Proposition 48 stipulates that freshman scholarship athletes in Division I can play and practice with their teams only if they earned at least a 2.0 grade point average in 11 high school core curriculum courses and scored at least 700 on the SAT or 18 on the American College Testing (ACT) Program's exam. Athletes who meet neither requirement may not receive a scholarship. Those Division I athletes who satisfy one of the requirements but not the other may be awarded a scholarship but must use their freshman year to gain eligibility by achieving a 2.0 GPA in 24 credit hours. Thereafter they retain only three years of varsity eligibility.
The majority of university presidents who voted for the rule in 1983—it was enacted three years later—believe that Prop 48 is a sensible way to shore up the eroding academic skills of college athletes. However, some educators and athletic officials maintain that Prop 48 discriminates against blacks, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, because Prop 48 puts too much weight on standardized tests, which have been criticized as being culturally biased in favor of white middle-class youths.
Is Prop 48 working? It's hard to say. Schools are not required to publish information about their Prop 48 athletes, and rarely have more than 75% of the 295 Division I institutions responded to the NCAA's annual survey of the program. It is known that some 600 Prop 48 students—about 6% of all scholarship athletes—have entered Division I universities each year since the measure was enacted. But the NCAA won't have comprehensive graduation numbers until December. Still, Rick Evrard, NCAA director of legislative services, says he can detect at least one positive effect of Prop 48: "Athletes are already achieving more in the high schools. That much is clear."
Wake Forest president Thomas Hearn is also pleased with the early returns. "I think Prop 48 was the best thing we could have done for student-athletes," he says. Earlier this year the Presidents Commission recommended that Prop 48 be made even tougher, requiring a 2.5 GPA in 13 core courses.
None of this makes Temple basketball coach John Chaney happy. "Proposition 48 isn't serving the youngsters it is supposed to help," he says. "It has legislated out of college those who were not dealt a fair hand at an early level of education." In fact, about two dozen Division I schools—including every school in the Southwest Conference—avoid the dilemma altogether by prohibiting the admission of any Prop 48 athletes.
Atlanta Hawk guard Rumeal Robinson, who attended Rindge and Latin high school in Cambridge, Mass., sat out his freshman season at Michigan, 1986-87. Yet he harbors no ill feeling toward Prop 48. "[It] isn't such a bad idea," says Robinson. "It works well for kids who didn't get that good an education in high school. It gives them a chance to meet people on campus, to see things that they probably wouldn't see if they were playing sports, to be a normal student."
Robinson went on to become an All-America and graduated in May 1990 with bachelor's degrees in communications and kinesiology. This summer he is taking graduate courses at Harvard. He walks by his old high school every day. "Back then, I just wanted to play basketball," he says. "Now I also want to advance myself."