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Coaches Say New NCAA Academic Plan Is Flawed
NCAA officials agree that penalizing programs merely for having NBA-caliber players is unwarranted. After all, the past three national championship teams had a combined eight players leave for the NBA before they exhausted eligibility.
As a freshman at Syracuse, Carmelo Anthony led the team to the national title and would have been eligible for his sophomore season, Coach Jim Boeheim said, had he chose to finish school in spring 2003 rather than attend NBA workouts. As it turned out, Anthony would have compiled only two out of four possible points for the year, had the APR been in effect, because he was not eligible to return after leaving school.
"You can't have too many of those guys," Boeheim said. "You can have eight players be Rhodes scholars. . . . And you have two guys good enough to go to the NBA [early] and you won't get a 925. The better players you recruit, the lower your APR is going to be."
Greg Oden, a 7-foot Indianapolis high school senior, made a much-publicized oral commitment to Ohio State last month. Oden was expected to be the top pick in the 2006 NBA draft before the league instituted a rule requiring players to be at least 19 years old; he likely will leave Ohio State before his four years of eligibility are exhausted. If and when that happens, the Buckeyes' APR score will be reduced, barring a waiver.
"It's hypocrisy," said Sonny Vaccaro, Reebok's director of grass-roots basketball who is considered among the most influential people in basketball over the past 30 years. "Student-athlete, in the purest sense, does not exist in college sports and certainly does not exist in college basketball. They are going to hold everyone responsible for the ills of an individual you may have recruited, and you penalize the whole team by these rules for what is bound to happen."
No college coach interviewed -- including five of the past seven national champions -- said he would be reluctant to take a player who might leave early because of APR implications. And there are indications that the pursuit of the best players, many of whom likely will stay only one year, is as intense as ever. In fact, Cincinnati high school junior O.J. Mayo, considered the best guard prospect since LeBron James, said he received 30 telephone and text messages, many of those from college coaches, the day the NBA's labor deal was announced.
The scholarship reduction "might be worth it," Boeheim conceded, "if you end up winning the national championship."
Romar, whose top recruit, Martell Webster, opted to become a first-round draft pick in June rather than attend college, scoffed at the notion that he would hesitate signing a player who could leave after one season -- "No, no, not at all."
And Izzo, who has lost players unexpectedly early to the draft, said: "If I lost a scholarship for those reasons, when I know what my track record has been for 10 years, so be it. Doesn't bother me."
The NCAA views initial scholarship reductions, also known as contemporaneous penalties, as less of a hard-line deterrent and more of a red flag for a program, warning that it is on the wrong track and at risk for more serious penalties. Chronic underachievers, based on a rolling four-year average APR score, will be subject to harsher penalties, such as postseason bans or restricted NCAA membership.
Murray Sperber, professor emeritus at Indiana University and critic of big-time college athletics, said the reform package is more a public relations move by the NCAA than about educating athletes.
"I truly believe you're not going to see much in the loss of scholarships," Sperber said. "And you will see a kind of movement toward more Mickey Mouse [watered-down] courses" for athletes to remain eligible.