April 29, 2002
By Gary T. Brown
Perhaps no issue has been more challenging over the past six months in Division I than that of evaluating the competitive experiences of international student-athletes. And as those competitive experiences have been evaluated, the eligibility of several student-athletes in different sports at NCAA member schools has been impacted.
The NCAA is trying mightily to educate member schools and thus reduce the chances that a coach or an athletics administrator will be involved in recruiting a professional student-athlete without knowing it. The Association's agents, gambling and amateurism activities staff is providing comprehensive information online about international professional teams and leagues, particularly in basketball and volleyball. The information comes in part from a trip two staff members made to Europe last spring to learn more about international student-athletes, the leagues they play in and whether the athletes are compensated for playing.
The information also was used to gain clarity on the status of international student-athletes currently on NCAA rosters. A July 3 memorandum to more than 60 Division I institutions identified specific international student-athletes in men's basketball who the NCAA enforcement staff believed may have had eligibility issues. About one-third of those institutions had student-athletes who were impacted and chose to go through the reinstatement process.
While there has been information available online for some time, it has been significantly upgraded in order to provide coaches and administrators even more opportunities to learn about the leagues and teams they search for talent. The information can be found at NCAA Online under enforcement and reinstatement. There, users can access applicable NCAA legislation regarding international student-athletes and a description of the European club-based athletics system. Viewers also can search for information on a specific country listed by sport.
"Until now, not much was known about the status of these international teams," said Bill Saum, the NCAA's director of agents, gambling and amateurism activities. "Now we have information directly from FIBA and other national governing bodies that can assist in determining whether a team or athlete is professional."
Saum encourages coaches and others to determine the international student-athlete's eligibility before recruitment rather than after the athlete's arrival on campus when it becomes a much more emotional issue. "The addition of the material online should be a beacon for coaches and others in determining the status of these athletes and teams," he said. "In addition to the material online, institutions are encouraged to use their present international student-athletes as resources."
As an example of how the Web site works, if a coach is interested in recruiting a volleyball student-athlete who has played competitively in Morocco, he or she would click on Morocco, which would take them to the confederation of volleyball (there is one confederation per continent) and then to the national federation page. There, users would find contact information (as long as they know either the name of the player, team or league). At that point, they can e-mail, fax or phone the contact with the appropriate questions. Users also could go to a Web site, if one is available, for that league or team.
"It's a more organized track to follow," Saum said. "Before, coaches would talk with coaches. Now they can talk to contacts at the federations or leagues themselves and receive information to determine whether they should recruit the athlete. That's not to say that every league or team contact will be completely straightforward with information, but more will than not. The goal in providing this expanded information is to provide an educational foundation."
The site also includes information pertaining to teams and leagues that have been questioned as part of recent student-athlete reinstatement cases involving international players.
The current penalty for international student-athletes who participated in upper level professional competition is sitting out a maximum of 20 percent of the professional contests in which they participated, or eight games, whichever is less. For those who participated in competition below the first and second tiers and were otherwise eligible, the penalty is 10 percent of the intercollegiate season (three games).
At its meeting in Denver earlier this month, the Division I Management Council also approved a definition of a professional team as part of an amateurism deregulation package. That definition says a professional team is one that either declares itself to be professional or provides any of its players more than actual and necessary expenses. Prospects who participate on such teams would be declared ineligible and would have to go through the reinstatement process. About two-thirds of the cases processed involved competition that triggers the new definition of a professional team. The Council also approved a proposal that renders individuals who participated on professional teams ineligible whether they knew the team was professional or not.
Thus, Saum said, it becomes even more imperative that recruiters know the lay of the international land before they pursue players.
"Depending on what the Council decides in July as to how long the maximum eight-game sit-out period remains in place, the penalty for competing on a professional team may be harsher than it is right now," Saum said. "This increases the need for coaches and administrators to know how the international leagues are structured. It is important to be familiar with the type of information we're now providing online."