The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today heard arguments on whether the NCAA's freshman eligibility standards discriminate against blacks.

The NCAA is appealing a lower court ruling made last March that found the association's standards violate the Title VI federal civil rights law because of their "unjustified" impact on blacks.

That ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by four black students who failed to achieve the minimum standardized-test score needed under NCAA rules, commonly known as Proposition 48, or in its latest revised form, Proposition 16.

A panel, composed of Judges Morton I. Greenberg, Theodore A. McKee and Walter K. Stapleton, heard testimony from both sides for 90 minutes in the closely watched case.

David P. Bruton, who represents the NCAA, told the judges that the case could be quickly resolved if they agreed with his "technical argument" that the NCAA is not subject to Title VI because the association does not receive federal funds.

He said that the association administers a fund, called the National Summer Youth Program Fund, which receives federal funds. But he said the NCAA dispenses the money to other programs and does not receive any of the federal funds.

"If [the] NCAA makes all the decisions on how the program runs, isn't it an NCAA program?" Stapleton asked.

No, Bruton argued, adding that the association "is not a direct recipient" of the federal funds.

But Andre L. Dennis, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, disagreed. Because the association controls the federal funds for the youth program, the NCAA is bound by federal law, Dennis said.

McKee wondered why the NCAA had not changed Prop 16 since "from your own material, there is an admission" the standards have "a disparate impact" on blacks.

Bruton said the association had compiled 15 years of statistics related to the matter, but the NCAA "wanted to see more data before tinkering with Proposition 16."

In 1983, amid concerns that some athletes were unable to read, much less earn diplomas, the NCAA member schools adopted the freshman eligibility standards that became effective in 1986.

The NCAA required freshmen to have a high school diploma, a minimum standardized-test score and a minimum grade-point average in 13 core academic courses. The test score and GPA were based on an indexed, sliding scale. Students scoring less than 820 (out of a possible 1,600) on the Scholastic Assessment Test or 66 (out of 120) on the American College Test could not participate in sports as freshmen, regardless of their academic achievements.

Dennis told the judges that one of the flaws in Prop 16 is that the standards do not allow for the differences in college academic programs, where a student who meets the minimum standards may succeed in one college and not in another.