Three R’s Take a Back Seat to the Final Four: Suspension of NCAA Academic Standards Could Hurt Student Athletes

Members of the African-American leadership network Project 21 call Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter’s March ruling overturning the NCAA’s minimum acadmic standards for freshmen athletes a fit of “March Madness” that will devastate student athletics for years to come. Project 21 members say Judge Buckwalter’s assertion that the use of standardized tests is “a discriminatory practice” because the tests are allegedly biased against African-Americans demeans blacks because it suggests they cannot be held to the same standards as other races. It also jeopardizes the guarantee that student-athletes will receive a quality education.

“I would imagine that Coach Jerry Tarkanian of Fresno State University is salivating at the thought of the possibilities of this ruling. Tarkanian got in trouble coaching basketball at UNLV in the 1980’s when he tried to push student athletes without any regard for their intellectual stimulation,” said Project 21 member Michael King. “But according to the whiners in black society, that’s OK. College athletics is a way for these ‘otherwise underprivileged’ students to get ahead. Excuse me, but the last time I checked the primary purpose of college was to get an education, not act as a farm system for the NBA.”

In his ruling on a case brought by 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 test 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 after it was discovered that schools were paying such little attention to the academic well-being of student athletes that some college players completed their athletic eligibility long before they met graduation requirements and, in some cases, were enrolled in college-level classes despite being unable to read. 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, schools could use the ruling to return college athletics to the days when the well being of the athlete’s academic progress was not as important as their ability on the court or in the field.

The NCAA has appealed the ruling, but Judge Buckwalter will not postpone implementing his decision until after the appeal, throwing current collegiate recruiting efforts into confusion.

“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.”

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 [email protected], or visit Project 21’s website at


The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.