Joe Paterno and Bo Schembechler, two of the nation's foremost college football coaches, told the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday that college programs across the country will be in jeopardy if professional leagues are permitted to recruit and sign undergraduate players.
There is proposed legislation aimed at curbing the signing of undergraduates by giving sports leagues a limited antitrust exemption.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has introduced a bill that would exempt from antitrust liability the professional sports league rules prohibiting member teams from signing athletes before their college eligibility has expired. Yesterday's testimony came response to this legislation.
Specter introduced his bill in the wake of the U.S. Football League's New Jersey Generals' signing Georgia running back Herschel Walker for $2.5 million.
Walker's signing, said Paterno, Penn State coach, "served to disrupt the generally harmonious relationship that has existed in recent years between college football and professional football."
Paterno, who said the coaches committee of the College Football Association endorses Specter's bill in principle, said, "If we don't get some relief to protect what we have now, I think you'll find college football in chaos."
Schembechler, coach at Michigan, supported Paterno's position, saying that the signing of undergraduates by professional leagues "would open the door for unscrupulous agents who would come onto campus and entice college players."
But Ed Garvey, executive director of the NFL Players Association, reminded the committee that pro hockey and baseball leagues have no prohibitions against signing undergraduates and that basketball permits such signings in hardship cases.
John Toner, the president of the NCAA, said his group wants to reduce pressures on college coaches.
"Nonetheless, the NCAA does not believe that a student-athlete should be denied the opportunity to choose to become a professional player prior to completion of his undergraduate education," Toner said.