PROPOSITION 48 is the NCAA rule -- passed in 1983 -- that finally set some minimum academic standards for college student-athletes who want to play varsity sports in their freshman year. They can't if they fail to achieve at least a "C" average in their high school core curriculum subjects. A cumulative score of at least 700 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test or 15 on the American College Test is also required. To be eligible to play in their sophomore, junior and senior years, student-athletes must remain in good academic standing at their schools.

Critics have argued that these tests are culturally biased. Others have expressed the fear that future freshman classes of student-athletes will include fewer blacks because college coaches will be afraid to recruit them. Notwithstanding those reservations about the rule, Proposition 48's effects have already been positive and substantial.

Athletes who graduated from high school this year, bound for the big Division I schools, were better students. In 1986, an Associated Press survey found that 561 Division I student-athletes were ineligible to play as freshmen in the first year of Proposition 48. In 1987, the AP found that only 372 student-athletes fell short. What does that mean? College coaches are taking fewer chances with students who have atrocious academic records. The fact that academic credentials are more important increases the possibility that student-athletes will get enough of an education to land a decent job.

A survey by Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sports in Society did show that 85 percent of those ruled ineligible by Proposition 48 were black student-athletes. But the rule's value is that it adds to the motivation and encouragement a young athlete may need to succeed academically at the high school level, and perhaps even earlier. As one D.C. public school system official put it, "At some point, you have to live with the standards. You may not like them, but you have to rise to the challenge."

Too often in the past, student-athletes barely graduated from high school and played through college earning a meaningless degree or none at all. Athletic departments and college administrations still benefited from their sports skills. If black student-athletes -- or any others -- are required to work harder academically to be eligible, who benefits? They do.