Instead of ending a bitter 10-year debate over Proposition 48, an NCAA survey will probably cause it to flare anew.
As predicted by everyone who supported the tough freshman eligibility rule, graduation rates in the first year went up.But just as opponents have predicted all along, the number of blacks taking part in Division I athletics dropped dramatically.
"You can get numbers to say anything you want," said Harold Lundy, president of predominantly black Grambling University. "What you don't see are those young men and women who were excluded, who were turned away. And there will be more."
Released Thursday, the survey indicated graduation rates rose 6 percent for all Division I athletes who entered school in 1986, the first year under the new restrictions. Graduation rates among black males increased to 41 percent from the 33-percent average for the three previous years.
But participation in sports by black men and women dropped from 27 percent to 23.5 percent - roughly 700 athletes.
Most black educators have fought Proposition 48 on the grounds that the standardized tests it is based on are racially and culturally biased.
The survey found the overall graduation rate for athletes increased under Proposition 48 from a 51-percent three-year average over 1983-85 to 57 percent for the class enrolling in 1986. The survey defined graduation as students who received degrees within six years of entering college.
The survey showed only 30 percent of black males in the general student body received degrees, far below the 41 percent graduation rate for black male athletes.
Overall, 55 percent of the student body received degrees compared with 57 percent of athletes.
Proposition 48, adopted in 1983 to take effect in the 1986-87 academic year, established requirements for freshman eligibility for all athletes.
"We told them 10 years ago this would happen, that they would be excluding young people who should not be excluded," Lundy said. "You expect graduation rates to go up if you exclude people. But the survey does not address those hundreds of young people who were turned away and denied educational opportunities. Where are they now? What's to become of them?"
Many historically black institutions were so adamantly opposed to using standardized test scores to predict academic potential they threatened to sue the NCAA or form their own association. The threats were not carried out, but the black schools were outvoted by other institutions at every turn.
"There was very little controversy about the fact higher academic preparation would raise graduation rates," said Jerry Kingston, chairman of the NCAA's academic requirements committee.
"I do not anticipate that," Lundy said. "They have wound up denying opportunities and discriminating against a segment of students, both black and white."
Under the standards, freshman had to have a C average in 11 "core" courses such as English and math, and minimum scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test or the American College Test.
"There is no question that higher graduation rates are a positive, a significant positive," said Jim Frank, commissioner of the mostly black Southwestern Athletic Conference. "But the survey doesn't take into account the black athletes after 1986 who were denied opportunities because they did not measure up in the SAT or ACT scores."
The increase in graduation rates for blacks was consistent for football and basketball. In men's basketball, the increase for blacks was from 30 percent to 38 percent. In Division I-A football, the rates for blacks went from 35 percent to 43 percent.
The NCAA survey listed graduation rates for all Division I schools for the 1986 class, broken down by sport as well as race and gender. School officials said when they adopted Proposition 48 that it would force high school athletes to bear down in their studies and become more qualified to meet the challenges of college work.
Over the protests of black educators, Proposition 48 requirements were further toughened at the 1992 NCAA convention, when the number of core courses was increased to 13 and a sliding scale that mandates higher SAT or ACT scores was introduced.
"I know a lot of people are going to point to this survey as proof that they were right to support Proposition 48, but I don't think it's anything to write home about. But their own data shows that young people have been excluded from educational opportunities," Lundy said.
"That there was about a 4-percent decline in the percentage of black athletes in Division I, almost precisely was what we predicted," Kingston said. "I would expect the percentage of blacks would begin to rise again."
"I do not share that optimism," he said.