Recruit change, NCAA urged

Convention hears call for ban on summer basketball recruiting

January 11, 2000|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

SAN DIEGO -- The NCAA's annual convention yesterday heard a passionate call to ban summer recruiting of high school basketball players.

"If we've got enough courage to do something to eliminate summer recruiting, then we will turn this sport around," said Roy Kramer, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference.

"The question is, `Will we have the guts to do it? Will we pass a group of meaningless pieces of legislation, which will make us look good in USA Today and the Chronicle of Higher Education, or will we change the sport of basketball?' "

Kramer was addressing several hundred NCAA delegates at a forum on the ills facing college basketball. Decisions on how to solve the problems are months away.

The subject is especially timely in Kansas City, where issues surrounding summer basketball leagues are at the heart of a federal grand jury probe.

Three college players from Kansas City -- Kareem Rush, JaRon Rush and Andre Williams -- were suspended by their university basketball programs after acknowledging that they accepted benefits from their summer league coach, a Los Angeles sports agent or a Kansas City businessman.

Critics of summer recruiting, such as Kramer, said that 80 percent to 85 percent of all recruiting-related violations "start with the leeches and parasites" who exert undue influence on high school athletes. Part of his concern is that some non-scholastic summer-league coaches are jeopardizing the amateur status of high school youths by showering them with impermissible gifts.

Kramer is a powerful voice in collegiate sports. He is the longtime commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, a former member of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions, former chairman of the association's men's basketball committee and coordinator of the Bowl Championship Series, the system that determines the national collegiate football champion.

The forum on the problems facing Division I college basketball drew an overflow crowd, and delegates stood along the back wall of the meeting room as officials shuttled in extra chairs.

Kenneth Shaw, chancellor of Syracuse University and chairman of the Division I Working Group to Study Basketball Issues, stood before the crowd and worked through a handful of problems.

They talked of low graduation rates and how it might be possible to base university scholarship allotments on the academic success of players. They talked about stiffer penalties for athletes who bet on college sports.

They also talked, at length, about relaxing the NCAA's iron-clad amateurism tenets and allowing players to return to college sports even after stints in professional athletics.

But nothing evoked the emotion showed by Kramer, who raised his voice and spoke emphatically. The crowd responded with polite applause.

"It is my understanding that the committee was brought together to change the culture of college basketball," Kramer said to start his speech. "If that is the case, the issue will be whether we're rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic and [letting] it sink anyway, or whether we do something about the ship.

"If we're going to do something about the ship, we'd better do something strong."

The case surrounding Williams and the Rushes did not ignite yesterday's meeting. The issue has been on the group's agenda for almost two years.

"We've been working on this for 22 months," Shaw said at a news conference after the forum. "Whether it's the Marx brothers, the Rush brothers or Moe, Larry and Curly, it's been an issue for a long time."

Despite Kramer's passion, the NCAA is unlikely to abolish summer recruiting anytime soon, although some changes are possible. Too many athletic directors and coaches still value the summer recruiting period, still depend on that 24-day window in July when coaches canvass the country and form their rosters.

"We would be against the absence of summer recruiting," said Paul Dee, athletic director at the University of Miami, after the forum. "We think that's the best time for our coaches to be off campus.

"If you have to do all your recruiting during the academic year, you're taking them off campus and away from issues like academics and coaching. It really puts added pressure on the team."

No definitive action was taken yesterday. But a proposal has been made to the NCAA's board of directors to eventually reduce the number of summer recruiting days from 24 to 14.

That does not satisfy Kramer, who views any summer recruiting period as just another violation waiting to happen.

"It causes an enormous number of problems," said Kramer, who received handshakes and backslaps after the forum. "And it's not getting any better."

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