William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice


Timothy Davis


In 1983, the NCAA’s adoption of heightened initial eligibility standards for incoming intercollegiate athletes was met with applause and criticism. Proponents lauded the measure as a legitimate means of restoring academic integrity within intercollegiate athletics. Opponents questioned whether seemingly racially neutral eligibility standards had a disproportionately negative impact on African American athletes. It is against this backdrop that the Article examines the racial implications of the NCAA’s past and present academic standards.

These standards consist of initial eligibility rules, progress-toward-degree requirements, the graduation success rate, and academic progress rate, the latter two of which comprise the NCAA’s Academic Performance Program. Through these measures, the NCAA states that it seeks to increase the likelihood that college athletes will develop academically while participating in intercollegiate athletics and graduate from their colleges and universities. As was true of past academic reforms such as Propositions 48, critics question the success of these measures in achieving their stated goals. Legitimate concerns have also been raised in the past and present regarding the disproportionate impact of the NCAA’s academic rules on Black Division I college athletes and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

In addition to examining the NCAA’s past and current academic rules, the Article discusses the NCAA’s likely adoption of a rule to eliminate the standardized test score component of its initial eligibility criteria for matriculating scholarship intercollegiate athletes. This measure is likely to be perceived as beneficial to Black athletes. Advocates for enhanced racial fairness within college athletics have argued in favor of eliminating standardized test scores as an eligibility factor and believe it will be beneficial to athletes from under-represented communities, particularly Black athletes. While thoughtful arguments can be made in support of the proposal, the Article examines whether the proposal could inadvertently exacerbate the academic marginalization of Black Division I intercollegiate athletes. The Article also examines other practices that erode the value of the educational opportunity afforded Division I intercollegiate athletes.