The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current, January 27, 2000, Page 8, Image 8

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    Academic standards for learning-disabled athletes fluctuating
LEARNING from page 1 ,
Students with learning disabili
ties who do not meet the criteria can
apply for a waiver to receive qualifier
For example, non-qualifying stu
dents may claim their learning dis
ability prevented them from meeting
the criteria, and a waiver committee
may grant them qualifier or partial
qualifier status.
Phil Grayson, coordinator of aca
demic and disability issues for the
NCAA, said in an interview from
Indianapolis that NCAA rules used to
provide little help for potential stu
dent-athletes with learning problems.
For example, NCAA rules pro
hibited special education or remedial
classes from counting as core cours
Accommodations mat wouia
remove the effect of a learning dis
ability - for example, untimed tests or
tests read out loud - were rarely
As awareness of learning disabili
ties increased, Grayson said, both the
NCAA and society at large became
more aware of the need to provide
accommodations for students with
learning disabilities.
A1 Papik, who recently retired
from his position as senior associate
athletic director and academic com
pliance coordinator at UNL, agreed.
“There is a pretty good rationale
to support the theory that learning
disabled students cannot complete
the requirements in the same amount
of time as students without learning
disabilities,” he said.
Justice for Athletes
The NCAA standards’ alleged
discrimination against students with
learning disabilities became the sub
ject of several lawsuits and caught the
attention of the U.S. Department of
Justice, beginning in 1995.
The Justice Department began an
investigation to determine whether
NCAA academic standards violated
the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The investigation
concluded that the i
standards were “too
rigid” and violated
the act.
In May 1998, the
Justice Department
and the NCAA
reached an agree
ment, known as a
consent decree, in
which the NCAA
agreed to make sev
eral changes in order
to comply.
of both the Justice
Department and the NCAA said the
changes have gone smoothly.
“Yes, I think it’s working,”
Grayson said. “We have not gotten
anything from the Justice Department
requesting we modify our policies.”
Daniel Sutherland, a trial attorney
in the Disability Rights Section of the
Justice Department, pointed to a
number of positive results of the con
sent decree in an interview from
Washington, D.C.
“We can see that their changes
have really helped,” he said.
First, he said, the number of law
suits against the NCAA on behalf of
students with learning disabilities has
dropped sharply.
Secondly, the new system pro
vides “a more realistic assessment of
what a core course is,” he said.
In the year after the consent
decree, the number of courses certi
fied as “core courses” jumped from
about 900 to more than 13,000,
Sutherland said.
Finally, the overwhelming majori
ty of students who have applied to the
NCAA to claim a learning disability
have had their claims approved.
Between June 1,1998, and March
1,1999, Grayson said, 1,691 student
athletes claimed learning disabilities.
While 1,463 were approved, just four
were denied, with 224 cases unre
solved at that time.
Because any applicant requires a
diagnosis of a learning disability by a
licensed psychiatrist or psychologist,
Sutherland said, those numbers indi
cate the accommodations are pin
pointed for students with genuine
learning disabilities - and are not a
loophole for underachieving stu
“There has not been a flood of
new athletes trying to take advantage
of the new system,” he said. “We’re
not getting all kinds of lazy athletes
saying, ‘Here’s a way to get by the
Dennis LeBlanc, associate athlet
ic director for academic services at
UNL, agreed that students with learn
ing disabilities have a legitimate need
for accommodations.
Horn, the interim director of
UNL’s Services for Students with
Disabilities, said the consent decree
did much to improve the fairness of
initial eligibility requirements for stu
dents with learning disabilities.
“In terms of learning disability
students, I think it was a good deci
sion,” she said.
limitations off the Field
One issue that remains controver
sial, however, is the limits that some
conferences, including the Big 12,
'X The reason we brought (learning
disabled students) in was that we
knew they could be successful with
the right accommodations. The Big
12 took away our ability to take
those kinds of students.”
Christy Horn
UNL interim director of Services for Students with Disabilities
place on the number of partial- and
non-qualifiers who may compete.
The Big 12 allows each member
university to admit four partial quali
fiers: two men, two women, no more
than one in each sport.
The conference does not allow
non-qualifiers to enter Big 12 schools
directly if they want to compete later.
Non-qualifiers must enroll at junior
colleges before entering the Big 12.
Jo Potuto, a NU law professor and
faculty athletics representative, said
those restrictions may undercut the
The NCAA agreed to make academic
changes for athletes with learning
disabilities. Among the key points
► Certified classes taken by students
with learning disabilities as core
classes - regardless of a "remedial" or
"special education" label - if they
taught the same skills as classes ‘
taken by other college-bound
► Allowed students with learning
disabilities who do not meet the initial
eligibility requirements to earn a
fourth year of competition if they
complete 75 percent of their degree
requirements after four years.
► Ensured that committees reviewing
student waiver applications include
experts on learning disabilities.
► Allowed students with learning
disabilities to file for waivers on their
own. (Other students must file through
the institution they plan to attend.)
source: NCAA
goal of the consent decree, which
provides students with learning dis
abilities the opportunity to prove they
could complete college course work.
“The Big 12 does not appear to
have any ability to look at an individ
ual case and make an accommoda
tion,” she said.
Horn said the Big 12’s ban on
non-qualifiers, which went into effect
for the conference’s first academic
year of 1996-97, prevented UNL
from accepting many athletes with
learning disabilities who could have
succeeded in academics.
“Traditionally, many of our non
qualifiers were learning-disabled stu
dents,” she said. “The reason we
brought them in was that we knew
they could be successful with the
right accommodations.
“The Big 12 took away our ability
to take those kinds of students.”
Although UNL and the NU
Athletic Department are
careful to protect the
identities of students
with learning disabili
ties, those students
included a virtual
“who’s-who list” of
Nebraska football play
ers from the mid- to late
1980s, Horn said.
“There were a whole
slew of really high-cal
iber athletes who would
n’t have played under the
current rules,” she said.
But those players
were not only superb
athletes, Horn said. Most of them
were successful in college and went
on to successful careers.
“The university doesn’t have any
right to bring in Prop 48 athletes to
compete in athletics when they have
no chance to graduate,” she said. “For
many students, playing football gave
them an opportunity to get a college
degree. -The Big 12 rules took away
our ability to provide that opportunity
for young people.”
Horn said she suspected the Big
12’s rules were partly a result of the
AT Mllilfiin
in ■■■■■mil
StarShip 9 Theater
This is the sliding scale used by the NCAA for academic
eligibility for college athletes. The sliding scale was
instituted in 1996. Athletes must fulfill the core GPA and
either the ACT sum score or SAT score.
2.5 & above B 68 820
2.475 Kies 830
2.450 E3 7Q •. 840-850
2.425 1 70 860
2.400 I 71 860
2.375 1 72 870
2.350 73 880
2.325 I 74 890
2.300 1 75 900
2.275 I 76 910
2.250 I 77 920
2.225 I 78 930
2.200 ■ 79 940
2.175 I 80 950
2.150 I 80 960
2.125 I 81 960
2.100 | 82 970
2.075 I 83 980
2.050 84 990
2.025 I 85 1000
2.000 ■ 86 1010
Source- NCAA
clout of the Texas conference schools.
Unlike most other members,
those universities - Texas, Texas
A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor - have
access to a well-developed junior col
lege system in Texas.
This essentially provides them
with a “farm system” that feeds into
their programs junior college stu
dents who originally failed to meet
the Division I academic standards,
Horn said.
But a recent agreement between
the Southeastern Conference (SEC)
and the Department of Justice could
force a change in Big 12 policy.
The SEC case arose when a learn
ing-disabled male student applied to
the University ofTennessee, where he
was offered a spot on the swim team.
Originally, he did not meet initial
eligibility criteria. But he applied for
a waiver and was granted partial
qualifier status.
SEC rules stated that athletes had
to be full qualifiers on the day they
enrolled, with a set of exceptions.
Like the Big 12, the SEC placed
limits on the number of partial- and
non-qualifiers who could play on
teams: two in football, one in men’s
basketball, one in women’s basket
ball, one in all other men’s sports and
three in other women’s sports.
Because the partial-qualifier spot
for other men’s sports was already
filled, the student could not enroll. He
then filed a complaint with the
Department of Justice.
In June 1999, the Justice
Department and the SEC reached an
agreement: The SEC, though not
admitting to a violation of federal
law, would exempt all students with
learning disabilities from the limits
on partiaL or non-qualifiers.
“The importance for Nebraska, if
we’re reading this correctly, is that
presumably the Justice Department
would take the same position with
respect to the Big 12 rule,” said
Potuto, the faculty athletics represen
The Big 12 allows member
schools to apply for a waiver of lim
its, but that may not be enough to
ensure it doesn’t violate the
Americans with Disabilities Act, he
Beth DeBauche, associate com
missioner of the SEC, said in an inter
view from Birmingham, Ala., that the
conference doesn’t have a specific
waiver process in its bylaws.
However, the SEC commissioner
David Jane/DN
tec; vc A
The All-Americans
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A Day in the Life
The Academic/
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has the authority to review any
request for a waiver, and “we do
entertain waiver requests somewhat
on a regular basis,” she said.
If the Big 12’s waiver process is
no more acceptable to the
Department of Justice than that in the
SEC, the Big 12, too, may eventually
have to make exceptions to the limit
on partial-qualifiers and the ban on
non-qualifiers in order to accommo
date students with learning disabili
ties, Potuto said.
“The purpose of the consent
decree was to give learning-disabled
kids a chance to prove they could do
college work,” she said.
“The cap is inconsistent with that.
It limits the number given that
Sutherland, of the Department of
Justice, said that in order for the Big
12 rule to be changed, a student
would have to file a complaint.
At that point, Potuto said, the Big
12 might have to decide whether to
reach agreement with the Justice
Department, as the SEC did, or liti
gate the issue.
She said she plans to raise the
issue at a future Big 12 Conference
meeting, with the hope that the con
ference will address die issue.
Sutherland acknowledged that
conference limits on partial- and non
qualifiers may come under further
“Other conferences are going to
have some trouble when someone
challenges them on this.”