She Wins One for the Ages : NCAA: Unprecedented ruling gives Bonnie Frankel, 48, one season of swimming eligibility at Loyola Marymount.

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As NCAA Convention proposals go, it was a little on the unusual side, an issue impacting a single athlete whose eligibility has almost run out.

Then again, the case of Bonnie Frankel--runner, swimmer and 48-year-old college student--is anything but usual.

She has fought off a variety of demons, including breast cancer, a learning disability and a divorce.


After being out of school for 27 years, she enrolled at Santa Monica College in 1989 and discovered a passion for education and running.

And now, based on action taken at the NCAA Convention on Friday, she has rewritten the rules regarding female student-athletes.

Division I delegates voted to waive the NCAA’s “five-year” rule, which requires athletes to complete their four years of eligibility in a single block of five years, when it is applied to women who enrolled in college before the NCAA began offering women’s competition in 1982.

The vote capped a battle that Frankel has waged since she enrolled at Loyola Marymount in the fall of 1991 and learned that she could not compete on the school’s cross-country team because she spent a semester at Santa Monica College in 1962.

The rule change comes too late for Frankel, a senior who is a semester away from completing her degree in fine arts, to compete in cross-country at Loyola. She will, however, get a chance to compete for Loyola’s women’s swimming team.

Although Loyola has a meet Monday at UC Irvine, it is unlikely that certification of Frankel’s eligibility will be completed in time for her to participate.


Still, she knows her day will come before the season is finished.

“I’ll get a full semester (of intercollegiate swimming),” she said after the vote. “It will be wonderful. I’ll get to compete in a sport I usually use just for stretching.”

The Frankel proposal wound up before the convention as a last resort for Loyola, which tried unsuccessfully to get a special eligibility waiver from the NCAA that would have allowed Frankel to compete in cross-country.

Loyola Athletic Director Brian Quinn convinced the West Coast Conference to sponsor the proposal. Then he wrote numerous athletic directors in other conferences seeking support for it.

“Bonnie made it more than just another issue,” he said. “She had so much desire, I felt, ‘My God, I’ve got to try every avenue there is.’ ”

Quinn was prepared to speak on behalf of the proposal at the convention, but he never had to. No one spoke in opposition, and the proposal was approved in a matter of minutes.

As for Frankel, she showed up at the convention Friday and blitzed the media with her own press agent of sorts--Bruce Smith, public information officer at Santa Monica College and a longtime friend--and a press kit that included copies of newspaper articles and news releases about her.


A television movie about her life is a possibility, she said.

“Sure, people have approached me about that,” she said. “And why not replace ‘The Amy Fisher Story?’ ”

Hollywood aside, Frankel has opened a door to NCAA competition for women who were once locked out.

“There could be more women out there like Bonnie,” said Mike Gilleran, West Coast Conference commissioner, “maybe a woman who enrolled (in college) in 1979, quit and never stopped working out.”

Said Frankel: “I’m 48. I’m unusual. I have the energy of a kid. But I also recognize I can’t be the only one (interested in making such a comeback).

“Everyone said, ‘No, it can’t be done.’ The NCAA said it can’t be done. But Loyola, Mike Gilleran, they’ve been phenomenal. And now I’ve done it.”

NCAA Notes

Division I delegates approved a proposal that will permit football players to transfer from Division I-A schools to Division I-AA schools without sitting out an academic year, the usual requirement for such transfers. A player could take advantage of the rule only once, however. Some Division I conference commissioners indicated that they will try to have the measure reconsidered during the convention’s final session today. . . . Also approved was legislation that will allow Division I basketball coaches to attend only those summer basketball camps certified by the NCAA. The measure was designed to help eliminate some of the recruiting abuses associated with the camps. . . . Delegates voted down a measure that would have allowed athletes who fail to qualify for freshman eligibility under Proposition 48 academic guidelines to earn a fourth year of eligibility by meeting certain academic standards in college.