For Release: March 10, 1999
Contact: David Almasi at (202) 507-6398 or Project21@nationalcenter.org
Members of the African-American leadership network Project 21 are outraged by the March 8 ruling of a federal judge overturning minimum academic standards instituted by the NCAA to ensure college athletes receive an education allowing them to become successful citizens. Project 21 members say Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter's assertion that standardized tests are biased against African-Americans is demeaning because it suggests blacks cannot be held to same standards as other segments of the population. It also significantly diminishes the guarantee that a player will receive the education he or she needs and deserves.
"For decades, claims of cultural bias have been used to absolve low-performing African-American students of responsibility for their academic inadequacies. Now, by striking down the NCAA's eligibility requirements, a federal judge had legitimized black athletes' excuse for not studying more or trying harder," said Project 21 member Sharon Hodge. "The goal should not be to make it as easy as possible for blacks to participate in collegiate sports. Rather, eligibility should be a privilege bestowed upon those who are legitimately pursing a college education. Academic standards are essential to college, and hence, should be the foundation of college athletics."
In his ruling on a case brought by two high school seniors deemed ineligible for collegiate track and field competition because their standardized test scores were below the NCAA minimum, Judge Buckwalter said using such scores had an "unjustified" effect on black students. Lawyers for the seniors argued the use of scores for determining athletic eligibility constituted racial discrimination. The NCAA's academic standards were instituted in 1986 when it was discovered some college players completed their athletic eligibility long before they met graduation requirements and, in some cases, were illiterate. A 1992 revision of the standards required freshmen athletes to have a high school diploma, a minimum standardized test score and a minimum grade-point average in core academic courses.
NCAA General Counsel Elsa Cole told the Washington Post, "Every school is [now] going to be making its own decision on this point, and we are concerned in the long run on what this will do for the student-athlete's welfare." Essentially, unscrupulous schools could use the ruling to return college athletics to the days when the well being of the athlete's academic progress was a distant second priority to their ability on the court or in the field.
"Judge Buckwalter is implicit in setting black people and other minorities back to Jim Crow standards," said James Coleman, a Project 21 member and former commissioner of the Los Angeles Unified School District's Black Education Commission. "Separate but equal indeed."
Project 21 has been a leading voice of the African-American community
since 1992. For more information, contact David Almasi at (202) 507-6398
or visit Project 21's website at http://www.project21.org.