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COMMENTARY : NCAA Doesn’t Want to Send Wrong Message to Preps

THE SPORTING NEWS

At the NCAA Convention last week in San Diego, Division I members again denied a proposal that would allow Proposition 48 student athletes the opportunity to earn a fourth year of athletic eligibility. It likely provides little solace to the coaches and players themselves that they are being heard. The debate over Proposal 36-1-B, NCAA leaders said constantly, proved that reasonable people can disagree.

But when it came to the vote, the result was the same old, same old. Members voted against a fourth year, which has come before them at least five times in recent years, by a vote of 164-152, with seven abstentions, the narrowest margin yet.

The members sided with the reformers who believe that approving a fourth year would send the wrong message to high school athletes. Wake Forest President Thomas Hearn described the fourth-year provision as all carrot and no stick. “I hope we keep the penalties in place,” Hearn said, “so that students in high school will be motivated to meet the standards. That’s happening now. Let’s not take that away.”

However, Missouri Athletic Director Joe Castiglione spoke for the administrators and coaches who deal with the student athletes on a daily basis. “The thing that you try to espouse to young people -- that if you work hard, good things will happen -- if you truly believe that, voting for a fourth year is the right thing to do,” Castiglione said. “It’s an earned right.”

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Success in easing initial-eligibility restrictions came on other issues. Division I members voted to delay the implementation of tougher standards for one year, until Aug. 1, 1996. Beginning on that date, student athletes who are partial qualifiers -- who meet some, but not all, of the standards -- will be allowed to receive athletic scholarships and practice with their teams.

The new standards will institute a sliding scale that must be met in order for freshmen to compete. In a core curriculum of 13 classes, freshmen must have a 2.5 grade-point average, and score a 700 on the SAT or a 17 on the ACT. Those with a 2.0 GPA must have a 900 SAT or a 21 ACT.

Though an NCAA study indicates that the standards would affect no more than 6 percent of student athletes, the issue strikes at the core of the academic-reform movement that began in San Diego in 1983. The leaders of the historically black universities are vehemently opposed to the use of the standardized test to determine athletic eligibility.

A year ago, Black Coaches Association members threatened to stage a basketball boycott in order to register their protests against standardized tests and the tougher initial-eligibility standards. The NCAA Presidents Commission, the leaders of the reform movement, listened to the minority arguments and agreed to propose legislation that would let individual institutions decide how to use standardized tests. However, Division I members voted down that suggestion, 168-155, with six abstentions.

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The historically black institutions proposed several alternatives to the tougher standards, ranging from making all freshmen ineligible to maintaining the current standards of a 2.0 GPA and a 700 SAT score. The membership voted them down by crushing margins.

“You have to say, ‘What are the true motives here?,”’ says William DeLauder, president of Delaware State and co-chair of the Special Committee to Review Initial-Eligibility Standards. “Maybe this is not a good time to answer the question. I’m tired and a little frustrated. The result is we are going to eliminate certain types of students from our campuses.”

The disappointment over those issues dulled enthusiasm over the concessions approved for partial qualifiers. And the counsel for the National Association of Basketball Coaches, Dennis Coleman, sounded a more ominous note. “I think the students will decide it at some point,” Coleman said. “The student athletes are going to get fed up with other people deciding what happens to them when they are producing all the revenue.”

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Don’t be surprised if Miami Athletic Director Paul Dee goes outside of the Hurricane family to hire a replacement for Dennis Erickson. The leading candidates have been Colorado State Coach Sonny Lubick and current NFL and former Hurricanes assistants Butch Davis of the Cowboys and Gary Stevens of the Dolphins.

The current Miami president, Tad Foote, is the same one who ordered the football program to clean up its act after the 1991 Cotton Bowl. Erickson made a decent effort at effecting change. However, the Hurricanes didn’t do themselves proud with their premature celebratory antics in the Orange Bowl.

Dee sounded intrigued by one name: Brad Scott of South Carolina. The former Florida State offensive coordinator knows the state, knows the Seminoles and is a disciplinarian. After all, Scott persuaded quarterback Steve Taneyhill to cut his hair. However, Scott also signed a contract extension recently.

Whoever it is will take a job as pressurized as any in the game. Former Miami athletic director Sam Jankovich, now a consultant with clients among the NCAA membership, expresses no surprise that Erickson left. Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson and Erickson each won national championships at Miami -- Erickson won two -- and Jankovich believes the pressure of the job is such that the university benefited from the turnover.

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Shortly before the convention, former NCAA executive director Walter Byers said student athletes should be paid a monthly stipend, the new phrase for what used to be called “laundry money.” Outgoing NCAA President Joe Crowley, the president of the University of Nevada, defended not paying student athletes in unusually strong terms.

“The day our members decide it’s time to pay our players,” Crowley said, “will be the day my institution will stop playing. I believe there are other ways to address the question and that institutions will address them that way.”

In a related matter, the membership rejected Proposal 17, which would have allowed student athletes to earn $1,500 through employment during the academic year. Whether they have time to study, play and work is another question. At any rate, the membership voted it down by a large margin, mainly because of a lack of trust of each other.

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