ANNAPOLIS – Maryland college and high school coaches are uncertain what the effect on their programs will be after Monday’s court ruling striking down test-score requirements for freshman athletes as unfair to blacks.
“It’s about time,” said Ron “Fang” Mitchell, men’s basketball head coach at Coppin State College in Baltimore. “It’s a rule that has definitely not favored African- American students.”
U.S. District Judge Ronald Buckwalter, citing NCAA research on the effects of minimum test scores, ruled that Proposition 16, which requires athletes to score at least 820 on the Scholastic Assessment Test for freshman eligibility, harms black athletes more than white athletes.
The NCAA announced Tuesday that it will appeal the ruling.
Mitchell, one of the area’s most successful black coaches, has built a consistent winning program at traditionally black Coppin State. He said the ruling likely will not change the way he operates, because he has always looked at potential recruits on a case-by-case basis.
“But everybody should be able to look at a kid and say, `He’s a good kid, I think he has a good chance to succeed in the future,’ regardless of a test score,” Mitchell said.
He agrees with eligibility standards for athletes, he said, as long as they do not penalize one group more than another. “I think we’re going to get back to a point where we give kids a standard to shoot for. But this is America. We have to have equal rights across the board.”
Mitchell and other coaches cite NCAA statistics that show 27 percent of black athletes are ineligible as freshmen under Proposition 16, while only 6 percent of white athletes fail to meet the standard. The problem is worst in football and men’s basketball, NCAA statistics indicate.
But some coaches say that removing the standard could open the door for some unscrupulous programs to fill their rosters with borderline students.
Mike Jaskulski, men’s basketball head coach at Towson State University in Baltimore County, said he was shocked to hear about the decision.
“We need some standard,” he said. “Otherwise, we’re sending kids a bad message.”
The repeal of Proposition 16 could leave the rules more open to interpretation by the colleges, something coaches say could imperil student performance. Freshman athletes still must meet minimum grade-point averages. And the college board scores could still be used in combination with high school grades and other measures to create a fairer standard.
“Typically, when you raise the bar, kids will find a way to jump over it, so I’m not in favor of pulling back standards as a general rule,” Jaskulski said.
Other coaches aren’t sure what they think of Monday’s decision. Ron Vanderlinden, football head coach at the University of Maryland, reserved comment, because he had not had time to examine the issue.
Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow also declined comment.
Several high school coaches said removing the test score standard will make their lives easier.
“I used to be for the standards, but in recent years, I’ve seen how hard it is to qualify good kids under NCAA standards,” said Terry Changuris, football head coach at Seneca Valley in Montgomery County.
Colleges should be able to set their own standards, Changuris said. He has seen too many hardworking students unable to accept college scholarships because of low test scores.
Changuris said one of the leaders of Seneca Valley’s state championship team has been unable to accept a scholarship, because he does not know if his test scores and grades will meet NCAA eligibility standards. The player took an SAT prep course and raised his score, Changuris said, but still might be ineligible.
“It’s harder than people think,” he said.
Changuris said students will still be motivated to academic achievement, despite the court ruling. “They still have to maintain a C average to play in high school,” he said. “And so many of them have loftier goals anyway that I don’t think it will have major repercussions.” -30-