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Jackson Challenges Colleges : NCAA: Rainbow Commission tries to affect recruiting by schools deemed insensitive toward African American athletes.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The battle over minorities in college athletics escalated Tuesday when the Rev. Jesse Jackson criticized schools for their hiring practices and what he described as an insensitivity toward African American athletes.

Jackson met with college leaders on the final day of the 89th NCAA Convention, 24 hours after schools approved stricter eligibility requirements for freshmen, a controversial move seen by some as locking out minorities.

Jackson, who has used major events to stage protests, said the Rainbow Commission on Fairness and Athletics will become inexorably involved in the recruiting of high school football and basketball players, a provocative action that could affect major college sports programs.

Using what Jackson called a fairness index, the Rainbow Commission will judge schools on graduation rates and hiring of minorities and attempt to steer athletes to schools with the best records.

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Because a majority of the football and men’s basketball players at major universities are African American, Jackson could wield great influence.

The commission hopes to have the index data available by April, which will be too late for the next incoming class of football players but not too late to change the course of future recruiting.

“If we can affect recruiting, that’s a powerful weapon,” said Charles Farrell, Rainbow Commission national director.

Instead of being confrontational, Jackson took a subtle approach Tuesday in addressing his concerns with Cedric Dempsey, NCAA executive director, and Judith Albino, chairwoman of the group’s Presidents Commission.

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“We had a very positive exchange,” Dempsey said. “We agreed on a number of issues.”

Jackson said it was premature to make threats in light of the openness displayed by the NCAA.

“That would destroy the spirit of a good meeting,” he said.

Still, some suggested that, in light of this week’s policies on academic standards, the NCAA refuses to consider minority positions.

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Jackson said he was concerned with college’s view of minorities, particularly athletes.

“Our national disposition to children has to change,” Jackson said. “It’s cheaper and morally right to reclaim them and not disclaim them.

“It seems it is easier to get into jail and spend time. There are those who would make it more difficult to get into college.”

He called this week’s passage of freshman eligibility rules a mistake because they rely on a combination of standardized testing and grade-point averages.

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“Testing does not take into account the differences of different people,” he said. “If you want to use a certain set of standards, you can always rationalize why black kids can’t get in.”

Jackson said for better or worse athletics has been the primary escape from bad situations for many minorities.

“It is the one arena where the rules are more public and objective,” said Jackson, who went to Illinois as a quarterback and later graduated from North Carolina A&T.;

Jackson emphasized the importance of opening the door to opportunities beyond the playing fields. The chance to become an assistant coach, a head coach, an athletic director or a television-radio commentator is almost nil, he said.

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“We know it’s not genetic,” Jackson said of obtaining jobs. “It’s social, it’s cultural and it’s racial and it’s wrong.”

Albino, president of the University of Colorado system, recently was criticized by the Rainbow Commission for bypassing an African American assistant, Bob Simmons, to hire a younger, less experienced white assistant, Rick Neuheisel, to replace Bill McCartney. Simmons later was hired as head coach at Oklahoma State.

Albino said a school should not be judged on any single hire but its overall policy. Four of Colorado’s nine assistant football coaches were African Americans.

She also said she understood Jackson’s position.

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“I think it can be remedied,” Albino said of the dearth of minorities in athletic administration and coaching. “I don’t think what’s behind those numbers are pure malice.”

She agreed with Jackson that it is time to change hiring policies, despite her recent action.

“It is one of the most difficult challenges we have in higher education,” she said.

Still, Jackson noted that the fans and students on campuses seem much more willing to accept minorities in coaching positions than the leadership, a feeling that could foster stronger action in the future.

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Desmond Robinson, assistant head coach at Tulane and a member of the Black Coaches Assn. board of directors, said that, although the numbers present a bleak picture, the attitudes are slowly changing.

But he echoed Jackson’s complaint that not enough is being done on college campuses to encourage athletes to think beyond sports careers.


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