YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Basketball Scholarships Stir Debate at NCAA Convention


SAN ANTONIO — Debate over a relatively small issue--restoring a single scholarship in men's basketball--became the catalyst for a round of emotional speeches and back-room discussions Monday at the 88th annual NCAA convention.

Representatives from the NCAA's Division I schools rejected a proposal that would have raised the scholarship limit in men's basketball from 13 to 14, but not without fanning the flames of disillusionment that burn in many black coaches.

"We are disappointed, and I personally find (the negative vote) offensive," said Dennis Coleman, legal counsel for the Black Coaches Assn.

The scholarship debate drew the convention spotlight on a day when delegates approved a relatively routine series of proposals dealing with gender equity and cost containment.

The debate also highlighted the concerns of the BCA, which has become increasingly critical of NCAA policies that it believes limit the participation of black athletes.

The BCA scored a victory when NCAA leaders added a resolution to the convention agenda calling for further study of tighter academic requirements for entering freshmen. The legislation is due to take effect next year.

The resolution received overwhelming approval from delegates Monday, but the convention's rejection of the basketball scholarship proposal was seen by Coleman and others as a slap in the face.

"The BCA is obviously upset about the results (of the vote)," he said. "Our leadership had dealt with (NCAA Executive Director) Cedric Dempsey and others. We thought (the proposal) would pass. . . .

"This sends a terrible message to the youth of America, particularly in inner cities."

The scholarship limit in men's basketball has dropped from 15 in 1991-92 to 14 last season and to 13 this season--one facet of cost-containment legislation developed by the NCAA Presidents Commission. The scholarship limit in women's basketball has remained at 15 as a result of gender-equity concerns.

"To me, this all comes down to what deserves greater weight: cost reduction or minority opportunity," said Jim Haney, executive director of the National Assn. of Basketball Coaches. "We thought the minority issue deserves greater weight."

A lineup of high-profile college chief executive officers, including UCLA Chancellor Charles Young, spoke out against restoring the scholarship in men's basketball--their argument based, in large measure, on the notion that approving the proposal would be a retreat from the presidents' push for reform.

"The world will not forget how we vote," Thomas Hearn, Wake Forest University president, told delegates. "The money is relatively small, but the price is large."

Countered Coleman during his turn before the delegates:

"These 330 scholarships are critically important to our community. There's going to be some Reggie Lewis somewhere--some young kid in South Boston--whose only access (to higher education) is through a scholarship."

When the issue was resolved, several CEOs attempted to cool down the controversy by huddling with Coleman, Haney and others. The CEOs hinted that legislation adding a scholarship in men's basketball could be considered at next year's convention if the measure is tied to cost reduction in other areas.

"I think we've made some progress in cost containment, but not always the right kind," said University of Colorado President Judith Albino, who will become chair of the Presidents Commission at the conclusion of the convention. "We've focused too much on (eliminating slots for) people. There might be dollars to cut in other areas."

USC Coach George Raveling, who has been outspoken in support of BCA concerns, had little to say Monday.

"We're going to conduct a conference call soon (to discuss the NCAA's ruling)," he said. "There will be no public statement made by the BCA at this time."

USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett, attending the convention, said the delegates' willingness to reconsider the tighter academic standards was far more significant than their rejection of the scholarship proposal.

"We're talking about access for minority youth across the board," he said, assessing the impact of the tighter academic standards, "not 300-something. We're talking about millions (of prospective student-athletes) across the country who need access."

Still, USC abstained from voting on the scholarship proposal out of respect for Raveling's views, Garrett said.

Times staff writers Lonnie White and Elliott Almond contributed to this story from Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Times Articles