Thursday, June 10, 1999

NCAA considers changes: some major, some minor

Frosh eligibility, length of season among issues

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        DerMarr Johnson will compete this season for the University of Cincinnati, Lionel Chalmers for Xavier and Keith Bogans for Kentucky. Their eligibility to play college basketball as freshmen is not at issue.

Possible changes
The NCAA's working group to study basketball issues is a body of 27 university academic and athletic administrators formed last fall to discuss possible reforms in Division I. The group is not empowered to make legislative changes but rather to suggest new rules for adoption by the NCAA's management council. The working group will vote on initial recommendations June 23:

Likely suggestions for new rules:

• Declare incoming freshmen ineligible until they complete one semester of academic work. Players would join their teams for practice and play at the close of the first term.

• Delay the start of the season by several weeks to eliminate early November games.

• Institute a system with scholarship rewards and penalties tied to programs' graduation rates.

• Change the September period for in-home recruiting visits to allow head coaches to spend more time on campus with their teams.

Possible suggestions for new rules:

• Declare all incoming freshmen and junior-college players ineligible until they complete a year of academic work.

• Move the start of the season back one month, effectively moving the NCAA Tournament into April.

        And neither is it likely the next group of incoming freshmen at any of the 300-plus schools in Division I will be forbidden to compete in their first year on campus. NCAA Executive Director Cedric Dempsey told USA Today it was “50-50” a freshmen ineligibilty rule would be among forthcoming recommendations from an NCAA “working group” studying basketball issues. However, committee members interviewed Wednesday said it is unlikely the group will recommend blanket ineligibility for basketball freshmen, and even less likely that NCAA membership would approve it.

        Instead, the committee probably will recommend freshmen become eligible after their first semester, or that the start of the season will be delayed by a month to give all first-year players time to acclimate to campus life. A recommendation to create some sort of connection between a program's graduation rate and the number of scholarships it can award for basketball is also possible.

        This last issue would directly impact UC, which has had lower grad rates than the norm in recent years.

        Coach Bob Huggins insists he is not concerned about the amount of time his players take to graduate, so long as they do eventually. A penalty for low graduation rates, though, would compel UC to be more vigilant about graduating players in the NCAA's prescribed six years. The working group comprises 27 academic and athletic administrators — including former North Carolina coach Dean Smith — appointed last autumn to consider how the college game can be enhanced or protected in such areas as academic achievement, recruiting rules and environment, player attrition, athlete/agent contact and gambling prevention. They will meet June 23 in Chicago to form an initial draft of recommendations.

        One would be a change in the way basketball coaches recruit in September. The current rule calls for an 18-day period during which coaches can meet with the players in person, which means some head coaches are off campus the entire period and unable to spend time with their freshmen. That would be changed to 18 days within a 30-day window.

        Another would be the creation of a standing committee to immediately examine issues that develop in the sport, rather than waiting for a series of concerns to be addressed with a body such as this.

        Some possible recommendations would have a noticeable impact on the college game:

        • Freshman eligibility has been a topic of debate since it was reinstituted in 1972. Many in college athletics believe a year without significant competition would allow athletes to become more comfortable with the other demands of campus life and more likely to graduate as a result. Those who support allowing freshmen to compete often quote the athletes themselves, who say they focus better on their studies during their sports' seasons.

        “I like the idea that people are looking for ways for college basketball to evolve,” said new Missouri coach Quin Snyder, who played at Duke and later earned a law degree and MBA from the university. “I think the emphasis is correct, trying to enhance the other aspects of college life. I don't know if that's the best way to do it.”

        Freshman ineligibility was proposed as legislation at several NCAA conventions in the 1990s, Haney said, “and it was defeated overwhelmingly.” The NCAA's survey last spring of coaches, athletic directors and other administrators showed 70 percent were against the change. The NABC survey of its membership also came out 70-30 against freshman ineligibility.

        Haney said freshman ineligibility might not have the effect on graduation rates its supporters intend: “Look at how few freshmen are not eligible as sophomores. Most are.”

        • A dramatic change in the start date for basketball could turn March Madness into April Anarchy. Committee members have discussed delaying the start of practice perhaps a month, from mid-October to mid-November, which would mean the NCAA Tournament would be removed from the place which it has come to own.

        Committee member and Conference USA commissioner Mike Slive — who did not comment on the freshman eligibility issue because he was unavailable for the last meeting — said it was important to be open to ideas that might be considered radical.

        “It would not make sense to put together a committee of this sort and not think about all sorts of issues, even those you would not ordinarily consider.”

        It is more likely the committee will recommend an end to games played in the first few weeks of November. Last season's first games were played Nov.7.

        • Offering scholarship penalties or incentives tied to graduation rates will first require a more reasonable definition of graduation, according to one committee member. He believes players who transfer in good academic standing should not be counted against programs, as they are now.


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