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          Front Page


Saturday, March 8, 2003

Jocks Could Pass a Ball Instead of Class

By Kate Nash and Olivier Uyttebrouck
Journal Staff Writers
    It's a law for dumbing down entrance requirements for New Mexico's college jocks.
    A bill introduced by Rep. Daniel Foley, R-Roswell, and approved 61-4 in the House, would prohibit universities from enacting admission or eligibility rules for athletes that are more rigorous than those of other schools competing in the same athletic conference.
    For example, the University of New Mexico accepts credits from transfers only if a student made a grade of C or better in a class. But UNM would be required to accept credits for D-level work because the University of Utah and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas do.
    Foley said the bill would create an even playing field when competing with other schools for athletes.
    Opponents say it would lead to universities adopting two sets of standards: one for athletes, and a higher one for everyone else.
    "We're imposing a standard that's unfair to our student athletes," Foley said. "We are losing them because they are finding out that it is tougher to get in here."
    The Senate Education Committee on Friday took 45 minutes of testimony on the measure (HB 581) and is expected to consider it again this morning.
    Opponents at Friday's hearing charged that the bill is unconstitutional and illegal.
    UNM attorney Nick Estes said the measure would be a "direct assault" on the powers of boards of regents across the state.
    "The University of New Mexico is opposed to this legislation. We do not feel like it's appropriate to have a different standard," he said.
    Senate Majority Whip Mary Jane Garcia D-Doña Ana, said she'll vote against the measure.
    "I'm not a scholar, and I'm not an attorney, but it seems to me to be not only illegal but unconstitutional," she said.
    But a UNM athletic official said the measure would help correct a competitive disadvantage that hinders UNM when it recruits top athletes from out-of-state community colleges.
    Conrad Colbert, UNM's senior associate athletic director, said UNM often loses out to other Mountain West Conference schools in recruiting top athletes from junior colleges.
    Students need 64 credit hours to transfer from an out-of-state junior college, Colbert said. If the student made a D in any classes, he or she lacks the credits needed to play, he said.
    "If one of them is a D, they don't have enough credit hours," Colbert said. "We can't take them, but another school can take them, which puts us on an uneven playing field."
    Colbert also said UNM can provide a good education to students who transfer here with D classes on their transcripts.
    UNM faculty members say the measure would lead to universities enacting two sets of admission requirements for transfer students: one for non-athletes and a lower standard for athletes.
    "This bill would set a double standard for student athletes and non-athlete students," said Dr. Fred Hashimoto, a UNM physician and professor.
    Other opponents include the American Association of University Professors and the faculty senates at UNM and Eastern New Mexico State University, said Beulah Woodfin, executive director of the AAUP in New Mexico.
    Opponents say the measure would cheat student athletes by holding them to a lower academic standard.
    "Most athletes don't become professional players," said House Majority Leader Danice Picraux, D-Albuquerque, who voted against the bill.
    "It's our job to educate them so they can get on with their life's work."