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JC Athletes Gain Right of Choice : Free-Flow Law Lifts District Barriers

January 17, 1988|GARY KLEIN | Times Staff Writer

A new state law that eliminates residency requirements for junior college students is expected to affect local athletic programs, but probably not to the degree that some coaches desired and others feared.

The legislation--which became law Jan. 1--establishes a so-called free flow of students, who can now attend the school of their choice regardless of the district in which they live.

Previously, a permit was required for a student to attend school in another district. To circumvent that restriction, some students, including athletes, had been giving false addresses to establish residency.

Junior college officials warn, however, that when it comes to recruiting athletes, free flow doesn't necessarily mean free-for-all.

"I hope that no naive recruiter or college representative says, 'Now that free flow has passed, we can get anyone we want,' " said Walt Rilliet, state commissioner of athletics for the California Assn. of Community Colleges. "The law is student-oriented, not recruiter-oriented."

Junior colleges are still prohibited from recruiting students outside their districts. Valley College, for example, is part of the L. A. Community College District and can send mailers to addresses within its area. Sending the advertisement to nearby Glendale or Santa Clarita, however, is forbidden.

In athletic recruiting, coaches must continue to adhere to the first-contact rule, which has been a part of the state athletic code since the mid-1970s. Coaches can recruit outside their area only if a student makes the initial inquiry about attendance.

"It really hasn't changed the rules at all," said Chuck Ferrero, football coach at Valley College. "A kid can go where he wants, but you still can't recruit him out of your area."

Many athletes, however, are expected to cross the lines that previously restricted their movement.

"The law may help athletes who have tremendous ability but live in an area where the institution in his district doesn't have a strong program in his sport," said Jim Schwartz, the dean of physical education and athletics at El Camino College.

Al Nordquist, who is the men's basketball coach at Moorpark, said that his program may benefit because of attractive campus facilities and class size. Lee Smelser, athletic director and men's basketball coach at Canyons, said he doesn't foresee much change.

Some coaches, however, believe that free flow will upset balance in junior college athletics and help perennially strong programs, such as El Camino's, become stronger.

"The rich are going to get richer," said Jim Stephens, men's basketball coach at Valley.

Stephens and a few other coaches are wary of the new law. They say that that free flow opens the floodgates for more corruption.

"Let's face it," Stephens said, "the first-contact rule has always been there and coaches are breaking it. Now it's just going to make it easier."

George Terzian, men's basketball coach at Pasadena City, is in favor of giving students more choice but he, too, is concerned with the enforcement of the first-contact rule.

"Coaches are beating the bushes outside their district," Terzian said. "If it's difficult for the NCAA to police the universities, and they have a policing agency. What's it like for the junior colleges?"

Rilliet said the state athletic commission, the governing body responsible for penalizing violators of its code, put five programs on probation in the past three years. He said he does not expect that number to significantly increase because of free flow.

The free-flow concept is not without precedent. The L. A. district experimented with free flow in 1983 and the results were financially disastrous.

Community college districts receive funding from the state based on average daily attendance--about $2,700 per student--so a loss of full-time students means a decrease in revenue. Norman Schneider, director of communications for the L. A. Community College District, said that during the one-year experiment, the district lost 27,000 students and gained just 6,600.

Should mass defections again occur, the law allows for the board of governors to impose restrictions on movement within the districts.

One district's loss, however, is another's gain. Many athletes from the L. A. district enrolled at Moorpark, Canyons and in other districts.

Glendale perhaps benefited most. Since 1983, the Vaqueros have won 4 of 5 Western State Conference football titles and their cumulative record is 40-13.

Said Jim Sartoris, athletic director and football coach at Glendale: "The campus population has doubled in the last five years, and there's no question a good percentage of them have been athletes. We became very competitive because we got talent from the L. A. district."

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