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Anger over scholarship rule

Colleges feel penalized by new basketball limits when players opt early for NBA draft.

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 22, 2001


Losing to Temple in the second round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament hurt. So did losing Kwame Brown to the NBA before he bounced a Gators ball. Okay, that's history.

But losing the chance to use a scholarship a year from now, that's the future for Florida -- and a lot of other universities, primarily those with big-time programs.

This is the impact of the NCAA's so-called "five-and-eight rule" approved in April 2000. Put simply, a school cannot offer scholarships to more than five players in one year and no more than eight over two years. Under the previous rule, a school could have up to 13 scholarship players (it still can) but there was no limit on when the scholarships could be offered.

The new rule's primary intent is to discourage coaches from running off scholarship players in order to bring in better ones. When Bob Knight took over at Texas Tech, for example, he sent three scholarship players packing for reasons that have not been explained beyond "team rules violations." But schools are discovering the rule also has unanticipated side effects.

"It will have an impact on our getting back to 13 scholarships," Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said. "If you have people leave early going to the pros, it's hard to replace those people. ... We're going to be penalized" because last month Brown, a 6-foot-11, 250-pound center from Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Ga., chose to go pro.

On Nov. 8, the first day of the NCAA's early signing period, Brown signed a letter of intent to play for the Gators. On May 12, he declared himself eligible for the NBA draft, which is Wednesday. He is projected as a top-five pick, meaning if drafted in that range, he would be guaranteed a three-year contract worth at least $6.5-million.

"If he had come to Florida, he'd have been my third (scholarship) player," Foley said. David Lee and James White are the others. "And I could sign five next year, and there's my eight. I can't sign six next year. I'll never be able to replace a guy who didn't even walk on our campus."

Every other high school player worth offering a scholarship had long since signed elsewhere. And the deadline to sign a junior-college transfer or high school player was May15. So the scholarship Brown would have used is useless.

"I feel like we can play with 10 or 11 scholarship players," coach Billy Donovan said, "but why should (the NCAA) put limits on your ability to get to the maximum 13? I don't understand how they can tell you how many guys you can sign. That's why we have a maximum limit of 13. End of story. That should be the limit. It just doesn't make sense."

Donovan thinks the date players declare for the draft should be moved from mid May to just after the Final Four. This would allow a coach to offer scholarships to players he knows are college-bound and not waste time on -- or lose scholarships to -- players who plan to turn pro.

But Donovan's dilemma is nothing compared with Arizona coach Lute Olson's.

When the Wildcats walked off the court April2 after their 82-72 loss to Duke in the NCAA championship game, Olson knew he had seen the last of senior center Loren Woods. And he figured that underclassmen Richard Jefferson, Michael Wright and Gilbert Arenas would opt to leave early and make themselves available for the draft. Olson figured right.

Sophomore Jason Gardner, Olson's only other starter, also declared for the draft, then withdrew his name after performing poorly at a predraft camp and said he would return to Arizona.

In November, Arizona signed five players to replace Woods and seniors Eugene Edgerson, Justin Wessel, John Ash and Lamont Frazier. But that left no scholarships to replace the underclassmen leaving early.

"(The rule) was not thought out," Olson told the Los Angeles Times. "It's a rule to take care of extremes, and it hurts other (programs) that have top kids that have opportunities for the NBA. The rationale was also to discourage guys from coming out early. Who are you kidding? If a kid is going to be able to have a contract for seven figures, we're supposed to discourage them?"

Michigan State and Georgia Tech are in similar quandaries.

Michigan State, the 2000 NCAA champion, lost five seniors and two who declared for the draft. The Spartans signed three players in the fall but are unlikely to sign any this spring. They will start the 2001-02 season with eight scholarship players.

Georgia Tech also lost five seniors. But when coach Bobby Cremins resigned under pressure last year and was replaced by Paul Hewitt, two players transferred and one signed recruit asked to be released from his letter of intent. The Yellow Jackets have six players returning and four incoming freshmen but can sign only one more recruit and will be limited to 11 scholarship players next season.

Several schools, hamstrung by the rule, have applied for waivers. None have been granted.

"Before a waiver is given," NCAA spokeswoman Jane Jankowski said, "it would have to be an unusual situation outside the control of the institution and the student-athletes."

Some coaches have suggested eliminating the rule. David Thompson, compliance officer for the Atlantic Coast Conference, said the ACC expects to propose that formally to the NCAA in July.

Foley suggests modifying the rule. "I think you need a little flexibility there," he said. "I'd like to see the rule be eight (scholarships) over a two-year period regardless of the combination."

Southeastern Conference compliance officer Jim McCollough said several member schools are considering supporting a change.

When the rule was passed, UF compliance director Jamie McCloskey said, "it appeared to be somewhat innocent. Now that it's in effect and people are beginning to understand its effect, I think people are saying, "Wait a second. We didn't think this through. We did not anticipate these problems.' And they sought relief and found out there is no relief to the rule.

"I think it has frustrated a lot of folks and a lot of them are now saying, "Hey, this is not a good rule.' "

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