Paul Hornung, the Pro Football Hall of Famer, NFL Green Bay Packers' star and Notre Dame Heisman trophy winner, stood recently before the public relations' "racial insensitivity" pit that dragged down John Rocker, Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder, Al Campanis, Fuzzy Zoeller and Sen. Trent Lott.
In Hornung's case, on Detroit's WXYT-AM, he lamented the recent poor play of his alma mater. Hornung's solution: "As far as Notre Dame is concerned . . . we can't stay as strict as we are as far as the academic structure is concerned because we've got to get the black athlete. We must get the black athlete if we're going to compete. . . . We open up with Michigan, then go to Michigan State and Purdue -- those are the first three games . . . and you can't play a schedule like this unless you have the black athlete today."
Well, the fit hit the shan. Hornung stood charged with racial insensitivity for suggesting that lower standards benefit only "the black athlete," as opposed to any athlete who performs poorly academically. Sure enough, given the sting of being charged racist -- again demonstrating the nation's abhorrence to racism -- Hornung apologized the next day: "I was wrong," said Hornung, " . . . I rethought it and if I had to do over again I wouldn't. What I should have said was for all athletes it's very tough to get into Notre Dame."
Yet Hornung's remarks differ very little from those made nearly 10 years ago by the Black Coaches Association (BCA). Concerned about low athlete graduation rates, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) attempted to raise the academic eligibility standards for Division I student-athletes. The then-current NCAA rule, Proposition 48, required students eligible for immediate college-level competition to score either 17 on the ACT or 700 on the SAT (they give you 400 for signing your name and answering one question) and a high school grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 in 11 core courses.
Then the NCAA phased in Proposition 16, which required a 2.5 GPA in 13 core courses (specifically including algebra, geometry and four years of English) and a 700 SAT or 17 ACT score -- but allowed a sliding index scale to accommodate students who performed better on the test than in the classroom. For example, the scale allowed a GPA of 2.0 with an SAT of at least 900 (21 ACT). While the sliding scale allowed flexibility, the NCAA admitted the requirements were tougher, but anticipated athletes would rise to the expectations.