Attempt to Roll Back College Sports Reform Prompts Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics to Reconvene

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 — Former members of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, concerned about attempts to roll back academic reforms already adopted by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), will reconvene here, Oct. 24, to consider steps they may take.

The meeting follows a warning two months ago by Creed C. Black, president and CEO of the Knight Foundation, sponsor of the Commission, that the Commission would, if necessary, “rejoin the battle for academic integrity in college sports.”

Black said the rollback attempt puts college sports “in imminent danger of turning back the clock” on reform of abuses and said a proposal to admit to college high school athletes who answered only one question correctly on SAT tests “borders on the absurd.”

The Knight Commission, an independent blue-ribbon panel of 21 academic, business and athletic leaders, including 14 present or former university or college chief executives, ended three years of formal work in 1993 after the NCAA adopted many of the reforms it proposed.

The decision to reconvene the Commission was made by its co-chairmen — Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, president emeritus of Notre Dame, and William C. Friday, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina.

Hesburgh and Friday said the Commission members will meet on Monday morning, Oct. 24, with NCAA President Joseph Crowley, NCAA Executive Director Cedric Dempsey, NCAA Presidents Commission Chair Judith Albino, and also with William DeLauder, chairman of the NCAA Special Committee to Review Initial-Eligibility Standards, and with Jerry Kingston, chair of the NCAA Academic Requirements Commission.

Following a private session on Monday afternoon, the Commission will hold a news conference on Tuesday, Oct. 25, to announce the results of its deliberations.

Rollback efforts are aimed at “Proposition 16,” a rules change overwhelmingly voted by the NCAA at its 1993 convention to take effect in 1995. The effect of Proposition 16 is to raise academic requirements for incoming college freshmen to be eligible to compete in sports.

The NCAA Council, which exerts oversight power between conventions, has referred final decision on the proposed rollback to next January’s full NCAA Convention in San Diego.

In a letter to Crowley in August, Commission leaders called a proposal made by the NCAA’s Special Committee to Review Initial- Eligibility Standards “de facto elimination of the test score component of the standards.” The proposal would have created a sliding scale of admission requirements under which high school athletes with a “B” average could enter college and compete even if they scored only 410 out of a possible 1600 on the SAT test.  A 410 score can be achieved by answering only one question correctly.

“For the NCAA to establish a standard that allows athletes to compete when they have managed to correctly answer just one question on the SAT borders on the absurd,” the Knight leaders told Crowley.  In subsequent meetings, both the NCAA Council and the NCAA Presidents Commission have distanced themselves from the Special Committee’s original recommendation.

After studying academic and financial abuses in college athletics for more than 18 months, the Knight Commission constructed what it called a “one-plus-three” model for college sports — the “one” representing true presidential control of campus athletics directed toward the “three,” i.e., academic integrity, financial integrity and certification.

The NCAA adopted the elements of this model at its conventions in 1992 and 1993, but some of the regulations are not scheduled to go into effect until 1995 or later.

Knight leaders have acknowledged that the question of freshman eligibility standards for college athletes also invokes “the important issue of minority access” and that the NCAA is under pressure to provide for minority admissions.

However, the Knight leaders said, “We believe strongly that in this case concern is not focused on access to higher education so much as on access to the football field and the basketball arena.”

They called attention to remarks by U.S. Olympic Committee president Dr. LeRoy Walker, a former member of the Knight Commission. They quoted Walker, the first African-American to head the USOC, as saying, “It’s not in the best interest of the student-athlete — particularly the minorities they think they are trying to help — to reduce the thing down to the level they have, in the name of access.”

In its final report in 1993, the Knight Commission had said that sports reform “is not a destination, but a race without a finish.”  Now, the Knight leaders told Crowley, failure to hold the line on admission requirement would signal enemies of reform that reform’s supporters “lack the courage and resolve to stay involved for the long haul.”

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which funded the Commission, makes national grants in journalism, education, and the field of arts and culture.  It also supports organizations in communities where the Knight brothers were involved in publishing newspapers but is wholly separate from and independent of those newspapers.

CONTACT: Christopher “Kit” Morris of Knight Commission, 704-376-8124, or Maureen Devlin, 617-259-9941; Beginning Sunday, October 23, both Morris and Devlin at Willard Hotel, 202-628-9100