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NCAA may allow athletes to skip college and return

January 17, 2001

On Jan. 9, the National Collegiate Athletic Association approved Division II pre-enrollment amateurism legislation allowing high school athletes to participate in certain activities previously not allowed under amateurism by-laws.

Prior to full-time college enrollment, prospects can be drafted by a professional sports organization, enter into a professional agreement, receive compensation for athletic competition, participate on a professional team and accept prize money based on place finish, all activities that, once, would negate NCAA eligibility.

However, those athletes who choose to participate in professional competition and do not enroll at a collegiate institution in the next academic term following their high-school graduation will begin to use up seasons of competition.

For example, for every year of professional play, the athlete will lose one year of eligibility.

However, if they choose to leave the pros for college, they must first fulfill a year of residence at the collegiate institution before being eligible to play.

While the new legislation does not affect MSU, a Division I institution, the NCAA is currently working on a similar piece of legislation that would apply to all Division I schools.

“There is a subcommittee within the NCAA that has been studying amateurism by-laws for three years,” said Jane Jankowski, NCAA assistant director for public relations. “I think part of the origination of this was concern about competitive equity through student athlete reinstatement policies.”

One of the things the staff has noticed over time is that there have been more schools requesting reinstatement for athletes who have violated amateurism by-laws, Jankowski said.

“As it stands now, signing a contract shows an intent to professionalize and violates eligibility,” she said.

MSU hockey head coach Ron Mason said that while he doesn’t agree with the proposal allowing a player in high school to be able to go and test the pro waters and then return to college, he does see the need to modify existing amateurism rules.

“I feel if a kid is still in high school and has played a year in major juniors he should still be eligible for college play,” Mason said.

As it stands now, that student would be in violation of NCAA by-laws and restricted from college play.

Because of such concerns, Jankowski admits there is a lot of discussion and debate going on right now over the proposal, but in anticipation of it being passed, the NCAA has set a proposed effective date of Aug. 1.

“If you listen to some of the proponents of this, they’re really trying to offer an opportunity to students who realize that they cannot compete at the professional level - they’re trying to even the playing field,” Jankowski said.

Despite NCAA optimism, MSU men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo doesn’t see the proposal passing.

“I don’t see that happening. I don’t see what it would be good for,” he said. “I know it wouldn’t be good for me personally.”

One particular area of concern is recruiting proposed legislation would take away from the number of athletes attending college.

“I think that you can safely say that that is part of the debate,” Jankowski said. “The subcommittee on amateurism has actually met with individual sports, like hockey, in which there are some specific exceptions to some of this legislation because of the discussion that has gone on with these coaches.”

Despite the debate over the possibility of a mass exodus to the “promised land” of professional sports, such an occurrence does not appear likely.

“There are only the very few (hockey players) that have had that opportunity to have that success,” Mason said. “Bobby Orr entered the league when he was 18 and so did Wayne Gretzky.”

Still, Mason is in agreement with Izzo, that, while skipping college to enter the pros is not the norm, if the legislation is passed it could affect recruiting.

“Why we want to speed this process up is beyond me, but I think that would be a ridiculous rule,” Izzo said. “I think you’d open up Pandora’s Box like never before.”

Despite their disapproval, neither Izzo or Mason are in on the final decision. Instead, the final approval will come from the Division I Board of Directors, a group of 20 college presidents in charge of passing or failing all Division I legislation.

“The (Division I) Management Council will consider the legislative proposals for the second time at its April meeting,” Jankowski said. “If the proposals are approved at that group’s meeting, then they will move on to the Division I Board of Directors and they have the final approval power for Division I legislation.”

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