Overeager NCAA garbles messages

ON HIGH SCHOOLS

May 08, 2007|By MILTON KENT

If you're of a certain age, you'll remember the old Looney Tunes cartoons during which Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck or Wile E. Coyote, upon being awakened by a persistent alarm clock, would dig out a hammer and smash said clock, rather than turn off the alarm.

There are a number of coaches, high school and college, who believe the NCAA, in two recent pieces of legislation, took a sledgehammer to problems that might have required only a gentle touch of the snooze button to correct.

In two fell swoops during the past two weeks, the NCAA has moved to bar coaches from sending text messages to recruits, while cracking down on prep schools by allowing students to take only one core course that would count toward college eligibility after their high school graduation.

Both moves, though well-intentioned, are heavy-handed and ignore the way things are in the world of high school and intercollegiate athletics, while pushing a Pollyanna-like agenda.

The text-messaging rule, passed late last month and going into effect in August, oddly enough was pushed by the Ivy League, a conference which, theoretically, does not award athletic scholarships.

The new rule prohibits coaches from using the increasingly popular cell phone function to send correspondence to recruits, essentially circumventing rules that limit telephone contact to certain periods of the year.

Coaches are also barred from using videophones or videoconferencing, as well as posting to message boards on social networking Web sites, though they can still contact athletes via fax, e-mail or regular mail.

In other words, coaches cannot talk to student-athletes in the modern manner that they are now accustomed to speaking with each other, namely the text message. Athletes can still send text messages, but the coaches, under the new ruling, may not respond.

The NCAA acted on concerns forwarded by the Student-Athlete Advisory Council that text-messaging had become intrusive and costly for the athletes, some of whom were receiving blizzards of messages from coaches, at costs that were being paid by the recruits or their parents.

Those are legitimate issues, all of which could have been resolved with some kind of compromise legislation that could have met the matter in the middle, rather than cut off all text-messaging.

For instance, the NCAA could have limited the number of text messages a school could send and also restricted the time those messages could be sent, as well as establishing a fund to reimburse student-athletes and their families for receiving the messages.

Instead, the organization has enacted a rule that is virtually impossible to enforce.

"It's just like enforcing any other rule," NCAA Division I vice president David Berst told the Associated Press. "You're not allowed to buy a kid a hamburger when he goes on the road, but that's tough to enforce, too. There are many rules, that, on the face of them, are unenforceable."

Meanwhile, the prep school legislation, though imminently more enforceable, will have a more dramatic impact.

On the heels of stories of so-called "diploma mills," where kids enroll in schools of questionable educational repute to do nominal work to get sham high school diplomas, the NCAA moved to close a loophole that allowed recruits to avoid graduating to try to boost their grade point averages before getting into a college.

The most infamous of these "diploma mills," University High School, a correspondence school in Miami, was uncovered by The New York Times to be operating without classes or instructors and with little supervision.

In recent months, the NCAA has placed schools like University under greater scrutiny, and understandably so. However, this new rule may very well take a legitimate option away from students, many of them minorities, who need other educational options to prepare for college.

Those options are often found at legitimate prep schools that offer not only solid athletics, but also more personalized learning that serves the kids who need it well.

Again, the NCAA could have increased its efforts to go after rogue prep schools and the kids who attend them, rather than this blanket move, which will likely drive more kids to junior colleges, effectively taking two years of their major college eligibility away.

But then, why go for the off or the snooze button on the alarm, when smashing it with a hammer will get the job done just as well?

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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