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Analysis : NCAA Move Means New Problems

The Washington Post

By deciding to deny athletic scholarships to freshman athletes who meet only part of the standards of Proposition 48, the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. this week passed a cost-cutting measure that might save athletic departments nationally $6 million a year.

But, instead of closing a perceived loophole, the NCAA opened Pandora’s box.

Most of the approximately 600 annual partial qualifiers--as the NCAA terms the athletes who either fail to get a 700 score, out of a possible 1,600, on Scholastic Aptitude Tests, or a 2.0 grade-point average in a core curriculum--probably will be able to get financial aid at the school of their choice and will not have to attend junior college, as many predict. But, instead of athletic dollars being used, the state and federal governments will foot much of the bill.

The losers are likely to be some low-income non-athletes deprived of an opportunity to attend college because the financial-aid funds will not be available to them.

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“It opens up the charge of racism,” said Art Padilla, vice president for academic affairs for the University of North Carolina system. “It’ll affect the kid from a poor economic background who’s got a 680 (SAT) and a 4.0. It opens up a whole new bag of criticism.

“It’s going to encourage coaches going to financial-aid officers and putting pressure on them, and it means coaches are going to be filling out forms for them.”

As Georgetown Coach John Thompson put it: “The kid that’s going to be hurt the most is the low-income non-athlete, because the schools will use those funds for the athletes.”

Thompson said Friday that to protest the new rule, he will walk off the court as soon as today’s game against Boston College starts.

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The NCAA for years has made academic decisions based on financial considerations. For instance, many administrators believe that all major college freshman football and basketball players should be ineligible, to establish a solid footing academically. But adopting such a rule would mandate additional scholarships and higher expenses.

Said Dallas Martin, director of the National Assn. of Student Financial Aid Administrators: “It’s fair to say a number of schools are having a difficult time supporting (athletic programs).”

Athletic administrators are predicting as much as a 15% increase in costs this year. That’s why the NCAA again is discussing the possibility of need-based scholarships. And that’s also why athletic directors don’t want to pay the freight for an athlete who is not giving them anything in return but an effort to succeed academically.

What’s usually available at the financial-aid office will not pay a year’s cost for the out-of-state athlete at state universities, where the cost generally is $8,000-$10,000 a year.

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The most needy student applying for financial aid is eligible for a federal Pell Grant, maximum $2,300; a federally guaranteed student loan, maximum $2,625, and a work-study program, usually about $1,000. That totals about $6,000.

“It will cause people to do things illegally,” Thompson said. “People are going to create (scholarship) funds.”

Ohio State’s basketball coach, Gary Williams, said he foresees the possibility that--against NCAA rules, of course--"somebody sponsors a player who doesn’t have a scholarship his first year.”

Some aid administrators say they have no philosophical problem with those athletes, who are marginally qualified academically, applying for need-based financial aid the same as anyone else.

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“As long as the (athlete) is permitted the same opportunities as all other students, I don’t have a problem,” said Clemson’s Marvin Carmichael, who also is chairman of the NCAA standing committee on financial aid and evaluation.

Besides the financial and integrity issues, both Thompson and Williams regard the NCAA vote this week as being insensitive to athletes.

Williams said: “I don’t understand why you go after the kid. A lot of players really need that scholarship.”

One who disagrees is Shelly Steinbach, general counsel for the American Council on Education and a prime mover in getting Proposition 48 passed at the 1983 convention.

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“We needed to close the loophole,” he said. “It sends a clear message to kids and secondary schools. If one was to weigh the national value of making that statement vis-a-vis 600 students draining the (state and federal) money, I’d say the statement being made to student-athletes is more important--despite the financial drain.”


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