Did he change the world? It’s too soon to tell. But this much is certain: Ron Wilson’s bill requiring scholarship athletes to meet regular admissions criteria at state universities was a stroke of legislative genius. Wilson, of course, was trying to make a point about the Hopwood decision, which has effectively eliminated affirmative-action admissions to Texas colleges: If universities cannot give preferential treatment to minority students who want to learn, why should they be allowed to give it to minority students who want to play football?
Last session Wilson tried to make the same point by wearing Ku Klux Klan regalia to a press conference at which a Republican senator planned to reveal his program to eliminate affirmative action. That was a low blow. This was a knockout punch. Instead of showboating, Wilson, who knows how to pass a controversial bill (in past sessions he gave us the lottery and concealed handguns), went to work. He assembled a House coalition of minorities, philosophical conservatives who oppose all preferences (“Be consistent!” Wilson urged them), and lawmakers who put education ahead of athletics (yes, there are some). When the going got tough, Wilson had to go along with Senate language designed to exclude UT and Texas A&M. But does it? Wilson says no. If he is right, the effect on college athletics, in Texas and across the nation, could be revolutionary. And even if he turns out to be wrong, he has given us all something to think about.