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Convention Lines Drawn on Testing : NCAA: Ideas concerning use of standardized examinations in determining eligibility for athletes highlight meetings.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Steve Hodge, Colorado State defensive tackle, and Jaime Escalante, renowned high school teacher, have spent years in the academic trenches but come away with different perspectives.

Hodge, a sports science major with a 2.5 grade-point average, entered Colorado State in 1989 academically ineligible to play football because he was one point short of the minimum on the American College Testing (ACT) exam.

Although the year away from football led to increased emphasis on academics, Hodge is against using standardized testing for eligibility requirements.

“I’m a good example of someone who . . . flunked the test and went on to college, and I’m carrying a higher grade-point average than guys who passed the test,” said Hodge, a senior.

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Escalante, the former Garfield High mathematics teacher portrayed in the 1987 film, “Stand and Deliver,” said he thinks students can meet high standards if challenged, including minimums on college entrance exams.

“Any kid, regardless of race, color, religion or the hobby they have, could reach their goals if they have the desire,” said Escalante, now teaching at Sacramento’s Hiram Johnson High.

“They are all going to be facing different tests (all their lives). In this country, a No. 2 pencil, plus the dream, will put you any place you want to be.”

The disparate views illustrate the difficulty facing the 995 delegates who will convene today for the 89th NCAA Convention in San Diego. Freshman academic eligibility requirements, known as Proposition 16, are expected to dominate discussion during the four-day convention.

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College presidents, conference commissioners, athletic directors and academic advisers will debate the merits of 150 proposals, but the spotlight will be on six proposed changes in freshman-eligibility rules.

The issue was brought to the forefront by the Black Coaches Assn., which has become an influential player in NCAA policy making by taking a strong stand against standardized testing. The coaches claim the entrance exams are culturally biased and not the best method to predict the classroom success of an athlete.

Hodge, who is three semesters from earning a degree, is an example of the BCA’s argument. Hodge said he did not worry about his studies in high school in Zanesville, Ohio.

“I was just like everybody else,” he said. “I did what I had to just to keep my grades up. Then you realize football is small compared to the test. The test is everything.”

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Many college administrators argue a nationally accepted format is needed to determine eligibility because high school educations vary so much. They endorse standardized testing, coupled with high-school grades, as the best method.

“You can predict performance,” said Judith Albino, chairwoman of the NCAA’s Presidents Commission.

“They are on Mars,” countered Edward B. Fort, chancellor of North Carolina A&T;, a historically black school.

The arguments about standardized tests have been waged since the NCAA adopted its current policy at the 1983 convention, also in San Diego.

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What has changed is the BCA’s presence and the fact the prestigious Presidents Commission, the 44-member body that has set the NCAA’s agenda since 1985, is listening to the coaches.

The conciliatory tone was established last year after presidents began an ongoing dialogue with the BCA to avert a possible boycott of some men’s basketball games.

Although the debate over the eligibility question is expected to be heated, it should be civil.

“We’re certainly not looking or planning to take any aggressive action,” said George Raveling, the former USC basketball coach who is on the BCA’s board of directors.

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“The lines of communication have been better this year. . . . I see a greater sensitivity now and greater social awareness of the potential negative impact for low socioeconomic groups than in the past 10 years.”

The core of this week’s debate will be how tough eligibility requirements should be for incoming freshmen in Division I. The current rule, known as Prop. 48, mandates a student must achieve a minimum grade-point average of 2.0 in 11 core academic courses and a minimum test score of 700 on the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or 17 on the ACT to practice, play and receive athletically related aid.

Bolstered by the Presidents Commission commitment to reform, the NCAA adopted tighter rules at the 1992 convention to become effective this August. Under Prop. 16, the number of core courses would increase to 13 and the GPA and test score requirements would range from a 2.50 and 700 test score to a 2.0 and 900 score. A student with an overall 2.5 GPA who is deficient in the test score or core courses would be considered a partial qualifier. The freshman could receive nonathletic financial aid but could not practice or play that first year and would lose a year’s eligibility.

Coaches complained that by taking away a year of competition, partial qualifiers are punished, even if they prove themselves in the college classroom.

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But the Presidents Commission is against restoring the year because it claims athletes would lose the incentive to work hard in high school.

Still, the presidents revised Prop. 16 to address some concerns. Under the latest proposal, the requirements for 13 core courses would go into effect in August but the so-called sliding scale of GPA and test scores would be postponed for a year. It also would allow freshmen to practice and get scholarship money if they met the GPA requirements but not the test-score minimum.

The other proposals being considered recommend various redefinitions of partial qualifiers, staying with Prop. 48, accepting Prop. 16 as adopted in 1992 and doing away with freshman eligibility altogether.

“No question there will be a change in initial eligibility standards, but what that change will be is the intriguing aspect of the convention,” said Raveling, who retired from coaching in September after a serious car accident and is attending his first convention.

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Other key issues at the convention:

--Restructuring the NCAA. One proposal calls for a Division IV for the biggest sports colleges to have more control over their destinies. Another proposal wants the colleges that spend the most on sports to have the most influence in the decision-making process.

--Athletes’ welfare. One proposal would allow athletes to hold jobs during the academic year that pay up to $1,500. Another proposal would lift the amount athletes from poor backgrounds can get from federal Pell Grants.

--Elimination of full sports scholarships at Division II schools by limiting grants-in-aids to the cost of tuition and fees.

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--Number of basketball scholarships for Division I. Proposals would even the number of scholarships for men and women at 13.

--Number of schools needed to have sanctioned championships. A proposal to hold off dropping sanction for sports, such as men’s gymnastics, for a year until the courts decide the merits of gender-equity effects on minor sports.

NCAA Notes

Joseph N. Crowley, NCAA president, on the recent call to pay football and basketball players: “The day members decide to pay players is the day that my institution (University of Nevada) will stop playing.” . . . Dave Gavitt, who served as chief executive officer of the Boston Celtics for four years until last summer, has been appointed president of the NCAA Foundation. The NCAA Foundation is a tax-exempt nonprofit corporation that raises funds for athletics. It was created in 1988 and works closely with the NCAA but as a separate organization.

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