WASHINGTON, Oct. 25 -- The Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics today called on college presidents to stand firm behind reform of college sports at the annual NCAA Convention scheduled for January in San Diego.
The commission urged the presidents to rally to the support of "Proposition 16," the tougher freshman eligibility rules adopted two years ago by the NCAA and due to take effect in 1995.
"The Knight Commission has unbounded faith that all young athletes, including African-American athletes, will rise to meet the challenge of higher standards in the same way they have met challenges on the field," said the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh. "In fact, we believe they will meet this challenge as they met the higher standards enacted in 1982 under Proposition 48." Hesburgh is commission co-chair and president-emeritus of the University of Notre Dame.
In a prepared statement following a one-day meeting here, commission members called for implementing Proposition 16 without delay. In addition they joined the NCAA Presidents Commission in endorsing the concept of partial qualifiers -- admitting athletic prospects below the Proposition 16 guidelines, but prohibiting them from intercollegiate competition in the freshman year and restricting them to three years of eligibility.
"It is unfortunate that this entire debate has encouraged the idea that access to higher education for minority Americans depends on athletic scholarships," said Hesburgh, noting that only 1.2 percent of 1.2 million African-American undergraduates depend on athletics scholarships to support their education.
During its meeting, the commission reviewed NCAA research on the effects of different initial-eligibility standards with William DeLauder, president of Delaware State University and co-chair of the Special NCAA Committee to Review Initial Eligibility Standards; J.J. McArdle, a University of Virginia faculty member who chairs the NCAA Data Analysis Study Group; Jerry Kingston, economics professor and faculty athletics representative at Arizona State University and chair of the NCAA Academic Requirements Committee; and Robert Bell and Steven Klein, analysts with the RAND Corporation.
According to the commission, the research supports several key findings: the combination of high school grades and test scores effectively predict the success of minority and majority student- athletes; Proposition 48 increased both the number of African-American graduates and their graduation rate; African-American student-athletes who did not meet the requirements of Proposition 48 were replaced by African-American students who did.
"Student-athletes will rise to the challenge of new standards," said the commission. "Raising the bar a little higher will improve graduation rates of student-athletes, majority and minority alike."
Arguing that the real questions at the heart of the Proposition 16 debate are "who controls intercollegiate athletics and what decisionmaking role presidents will have within the NCAA," the commission called for a serious examination of the NCAA governance structure. "Presidents must not be reduced to the status of simply one interest group among many in the association," said the commission.
The commission also reviewed the status of the reform movement with the NCAA leadership: Judith Albino, president to the University of Colorado and chair of the NCAA Presidents Commission; Joseph Crowley, president of the University of Nevada -- Reno and president of the NCAA; and Cedric Dempsey, executive director of the NCAA.
In support of the reform movement, the commission plans to urge higher education associations and college and university presidents to support Proposition 16 at the NCAA gathering.