Black coaches call off boycott

January 15, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer Staff writer Gary Lambrecht contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- The Black Coaches Association yesterday called off a proposed boycott this weekend of men's Division I basketball games after receiving an offer from the Justice Department to hear its concerns and try to mediate its differences with the NCAA.

At an afternoon news conference on Capitol Hill, BCA executive director Rudy Washington and Congressional Black Caucus chairman Kweisi Mfume, D.-Md., accompanied by Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson, outlined those concerns, which deal mostly with the lack of opportunities given prospective college athletes from economically and educationally deprived backgrounds.

And though they are temporarily halting the boycott that reportedly would have targeted nine games involving teams coached by BCA members, they did not rule out the possibility of a boycott later this year.

The coaches and legislators, who joined forces earlier this year, are waiting to see whether the NCAA carries through with its promise to discuss issues ranging from elimination of scholarships to its own hiring practices, which, in some cases, the BCA finds objectionable.

Earlier this week at its convention in San Antonio, the NCAA voted not to restore a 14th scholarship for men's basketball. Washington, the coach at Drake University, made it clear that the extra scholarship is far from the only issue concerning the BCA. "But it's the straw that broke the camel's back," he said.

Thompson said: "I don't think anybody wants to boycott or remove themselves from a system that has been so beneficial. But it comes to a point when you have to say something, or do something."

Mfume called the White House yesterday to enlist the support of the Justice Department. But according to a White House spokesman, the Clinton administration played no role in the Justice Department's Community Relations Service offering itself to mediate the dispute.

Exactly what role it will play is unclear.

"We enter as a third party, but we do not have authority to enforce or investigate," Ron Tomalis, a spokesman for the Community Relations Service, said last night.

But until the BCA received those assurances, it was preparing for either a boycott or for coaches to walk off the floor.

The timetable for resuming discussions with the NCAA isn't clear. There are some who believe that the BCA will wield more power in March, closer to the beginning of the NCAA tournament, because so much of the NCAA's revenue -- up to 80 percent, according to recent reports -- is tied to the tournament.

But Mfume warned: "We're not going to wait until hell freezes over."

It now appears that the intention to boycott came after a pledge Thompson said was made to him and other BCA board members last month by Gregory O'Brien, outgoing chairman of the NCAA Presidents' Commission, failed to produce any results in San Antonio. In essence, the BCA felt betrayed.

According to Thompson, the presidents pledged to support the BCA's position to restore the scholarship and to consider modifying academic standards for freshman eligibility, which become more stringent in 1995.

But NCAA executive director Cedric Dempsey and NCAA president Joseph Crowley, both of whom attended the meeting with BCA members last month, said yesterday that no promises were made.

The NCAA indicated it has no interest in allowing government lawyers into the dispute, even those with no enforcement or investigative powers.

"If the [House] Energy and Commerce Committee and the Ways and Means Committee are willing to let the Justice Department mediate health care reform, we'll think about using their services on these issues," said Francis Canavan, an NCAA spokesman.

Canavan said later he had not intended to suggest that continued dialogue called for by the coaches and the caucus "is not the way to go."

"We have to keep talking, and that's very positive," said Canavan, who worked 10 years for the Ways and Means Committee before going into athletic administration. "My comment was to suggest that an arm of the Justice Department might not be a good fit for the parties involved to reach consensus on these issues."

"I'm not sure how mediation folds into this issue," said Dempsey, who succeeded Dick Schultz as the NCAA's executive director this month. "The most important part of this announcement is that we can continue dialogue."

UMBC coach Earl Hawkins, a member of the BCA, was glad there will be continued talks.

"I think it's a good thing to let the [coaches] committee and the caucus work at it," said Hawkins, who was prepared to boycott today's game against Charleston Southern. "It's not in our best interests to make the general public develop a negative attitude toward coaches. Let's see if there are other avenues before we shoot the big cannon."

Loyola coach Skip Prosser, an NABC member, had considered boycotting today's game vs. Siena.

"The shame is that there is so much polarization on this," he said. "Let's be poised and not too reactionary. The bigger question is the adversarial relationship that's developing between coaches and administrators. We're all in this for the same thing, which is to prepare these young people for life. I'm very lucky, because where I work there is tremendous respect between us [coaches] and them [administrators]."

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