When the powerful Presidents Commission - a 44-member body of college and university presidents - pushed tougher academic standards through the National Collegiate Athletic Association the other day, immediate cries of protest were raised by some schools and some coaches. But the key point being made by the new rules is that school is about learning, not about sports.
In the mid-1980s, the NCAA adopted the controversial Proposition 48, which set standards for incoming freshmen to take part in athletics, including minimum scores on college aptitude tests and a 2.0 grade point average - roughly a C - in 11 high school core courses like English, math and science.Athletics have survived Prop. 48 and now the NCAA is raising the requirements. Effective August 1995, the new rule will require that freshmen have a 2.5 grade point average - roughly a B-minus - in 13 core courses and 700 on the SAT aptitude test. Lower grades will be accepted if the aptitude tests are higher.
Also adopted by the NCAA was a rule requiring stricter standards in seeing that athletes make satisfactory progress toward a degree during their college sports career.
Some black educators said the standards would discriminate against minority students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and who historically do less well on standardized tests.
There is no question that it will hurt. Studies show that as many as 40 percent of student athletes enrolled in 1988 would not be eligible under the new rules. But there is time before 1995 for high school youngsters to buckle down and prepare themselves scholastically if they want to play sports in college. That message should be preached in every junior and senior high school.
No youngster is helped by being used for his athletic skills if he is unable to do college academic work. Colleges and universities are not farm clubs for professional teams, nor are they in the entertainment business. The goal and purpose is teaching and learning. Anything else is a side issue. Sports should not be the tail that wags the dog.
The wrong attitude is one by a representative from a predominately black school who said the rule will keep out many athletically skilled youngsters, and as a result, athletic teams will not do as well and will lose fan support and television money. Fan support and TV money? That's not what college is about.
A much better response is the one by legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, who said: "I don't have a problem with presidents wanting to run their universities. I'm certainly not going to tell them what academic standards should be. If they think kids are not well-enough prepared, that's for them to decide."
The new rules clearly will inflict some pain, but if the end result is athletes who can better handle the academic rigors of college and go on to get their degrees, then it will be worth it.