NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

College Athletes Need Academic Standards, Too

March 16, 1999

Pennsylvania State University football coach Joe Paterno is taking issue with federal Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter's decision to overturn the National Collegiate Athletic Association's minimum test-score requirement for athletes. The judge found that the rules violate the civil rights of African-Americans because they fare worse on the tests than white students do -- so-called disparate impact.

Paterno makes these points:

  • The NCAA rules are not onerous, since to be able to play in his freshman year an athlete has to have a 2.0 high school grade point average and a score of 820 out of 1,600 on his Scholastic Assessment Test -- the average score being 1,017.
  • Even if a student doesn't meet these low standards, he can still enroll in college but can't play until he takes some remedial courses to prove he belongs in the university.
  • Universities are really exploiting athletes who are academically unprepared.
  • Graduation rates have improved, especially among black athletes, since the NCAA instituted its minimum test score requirement -- and youngsters are coming to college better prepared.

Paterno points out that when a college admits a poor student who is a great athlete, it keeps out a better student who may be a slightly poorer athlete.

The coach reports that Penn State's program of academic selectivity has resulted in more, not fewer African-American enrollments in recent years -- and the school's football program has had a graduation rate of about 80 percent in recent years.

Source: Joe Paterno (Penn State University), "Score on the SAT to Score on the Field," Wall Street Journal, March 16, 1999.


Browse more articles on Education Issues