Athletics and academics

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(Host) Commentator Brian Porto thinks that we’ve gone too far in trying to help students with marginal academic records compete for college athletic scholarships.

(Porto) Since 1986 the National Collegiate Athletic Association has required college freshmen to achieve a minimum grade-point average in high school and a minimum standardized-test score to compete in sports. The test-score requirement angered the presidents of historically black colleges because a disproportionately high percentage of the athletes whom it disqualified were African Americans.

Aiming to quell the controversy, the NCAA adopted a sliding scale of grades and test scores to determine freshman eligibility. A freshman with a GPA of only 2.0, but an SAT score of 1010, could compete, as could a classmate with a GPA of 2.5 or above and only 820 on the SAT. In 2003 the NCAA modified the scale, permitting a freshman with an SAT score of 400 (meaning no correct answers) to compete if he or she has a high school GPA of at least 3.55 in fourteen core courses.

I feared that the 2003 change would invite high schools to inflate athletes’ grades to compensate for low scores on standardized tests. Recently, a New York Times story confirmed my worst fears, showing the extremes to which misguided adults will go to help academically unprepared high school students obtain college athletic scholarships.

Consider University High School, a private correspondence school in Miami. It doesn’t look like a conventional high school; its two small rooms have just three desks and three employees. It doesn’t operate like a conventional high school either. Promotional brochures indicate that diplomas can be earned in just four to six weeks, thanks to open-book exams without time limits. Courses consist of completing work packets featuring brief texts followed by questions based on those texts.

This arrangement enabled one Miami athlete to raise his GPA from 2.1 to 2.75, thereby reducing the SAT score that he needed from 960 to 720. He achieved that score and won a football scholarship to the University of Tennessee. Another Miami athlete raised his GPA from 2.0 to 2.6 in a month and won a football scholarship to Auburn University.

No equivalent of University High School exists in Vermont, but that does not mean that the NCAA’s sliding scale is irrelevant here. On the contrary, it tempts Vermont teachers and principals to improve chances for athletic scholarships by inflating grades. The NCAA ought to be ashamed of itself.

This is Brian Porto of Windsor.

Brian Porto is an attorney and a freelance writer. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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