The NCAA has entered the "great unknown" after a judge refused to grant it more time to devise freshman eligibility guidelines.
NCAA president Cedric W. Dempsey said the organization is now in a wait-and-see mode after U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Buckwalter declined to issue a stay on Tuesday.
A stay could have delayed enforcement of Buckwalter's court order striking down Proposition 16, which mandated that freshmen attain a minimum standardized test score to play in Division I.
The NCAA said that without more time to develop new requirements, there would be chaos among the 302 Division I schools, which would suddenly be without a critical recruiting guideline.
"The NCAA's concern continues to be the welfare and protection of student-athletes and the effect this ruling has on the preparedness of freshmen for academics and athletics as they enter Division I institutions," Dempsey said. "With the court's denial of our request for a stay, our membership is left with many unknowns about how to address eligibility standards."
Dempsey also said the ruling could affect teams participating in the current men's and women's basketball tournaments. The NCAA now plans to seek a stay from the 3rd Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals; it also plans to appeal the original ruling.
In an eight-page opinion, Buckwalter wrote he did not believe the NCAA would suffer irreparable harm.
"After almost 100 years of administering intercollegiate athletics, the establishment of any prospective initial eligibility rule and the policing of its own members is a task the NCAA is more than well-equipped to handle," Buckwalter wrote. "By contrast, the named plaintiffs and other similarly situated student-athletes would incur substantial injury should a stay be issued."
Lawyers for the four black athletes who filed the suit said the NCAA should adopt a nondiscriminatory eligibility policy rather than fighting the court's decision.
"What the NCAA is doing is trying to protect them from themselves," said Andre Dennis, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs. "It's time for the NCAA to develop a nondiscriminatory policy."
The plaintiffs in the case have since graduated or are no longer freshmen in college. They claimed they were denied NCAA scholarships or sports eligibility because they did not meet the minimum test score.
Under Proposition 16, the association required freshmen athletes to have a high-school diploma and a minimum grade-point average in 13 core academic courses with the GPA contingent on an indexed, sliding scale with a student's score on either the Scholastic Assessment Test or American College Test.
However, students scoring less than 820 on the SAT, or 16 on the ACT, could not participate, regardless of their other academic credentials.
Buckwalter's ruling on Propositin 16 only struck down using such tests as minimum requirements, but did not outlaw altogether the use of standardized tests, which many educators have long said are racially and culturally discriminatory.
Its forerunner, Proposition 48, resulted from a tumultuous NCAA convention in 1983 when a group of reform-minded school presidents began pushing for toughened academic requirements.
The NCAA has said the earliest it could establish new guidelines is October, since it first has to consult its member schools before instituting new rules.
One of Proposition 16's supporters, Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, has said minimum test score standards should not be eliminated because of the possibility of bogus test scores.
"What worries me is that it is not going to be worth getting (an education) if we keep lowering the standards," Paterno said Tuesday during an appearance in Philadelphia. "I mean, what are they going to get (out of going to college)? Are they going to get a meaningful education?"
© 1999 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved