Proposals eliminate ‘one-year mercenaries’

Proposals eliminate 'one-year mercenaries' By Kelly Higgins, USD athletic director Editor's note: This letter was written by Dr. Kelly Higgins, athletic director at The University of South Dakota, in response to a story written by John Gillooly of the Providence Journal. The article concerned legislation about amateurism in NCAA Division II. Higgins' comments were provided to the Plain Talk by the USD Sports Information Department.

Dear John,

As the athletic director at a Division II institution, I read your January 22nd article on amateurism in the online version of the Providence Journal with great interest, and after spending some time to digest it and discuss it with others, felt it important that I respond.

FYI, I spoke on behalf of this legislation at the NCAA Convention earlier this month, and our institution voted for it. I feel that your article was full of the type of generalized misinformation that I feel must be met head on, before it is considered as fact by the public.

In fact, I discussed this issue two weeks ago with an individual stating he was associated with the Chicago Tribune. He was much of the same opinion as you, until I walked him through all of the details.

While it isn't perfect, and I think it still needs some tweaking, once all the facts are outlined correctly, it is my opinion that the people will see that 2001 NCAA Convention Proposal #12 is one of the best student-welfare items to come through DII in a long time. It will enhance the ability of student-athletes to complete school by making them prove that they wish to be a student first, and then allow them to compete after they've paid the one-year penalty for their mistake. It will also alleviate the competitive inequities currently running rampant in DII caused by student-athletes that have had the opportunity to compete at a very high level and then compete in the NCAA with no loss of eligibility.

As stated by others before me, the NCAA is not condoning in any sense the idea of high school athletes getting money before they get to college. What the proposals actually do is provide for a consistent method of dealing with those who unintentionally render themselves ineligible, and those that made what for them turned out to be a very bad decision to become a professional athlete.

The penalties involved are actually increases over what has been happening in many situations on appeal. Most appeals have resulted in paying the money back and/or sitting out a specific number of games. This results in a gradual and more dangerous erosion of our amateurism standards.

The proposal passed by DII requires a full of year of residence and a loss of one year's eligibility for every year of playing at a highly organized and competitive level. This harsh penalty insures that only those who truly want a college degree will return to NCAA competition.

The current policies allow former professionals to pay back a modest amount of money and then that individual often leaves to go back to play professionally before either paying the money back or receiving a degree. The new proposals would eliminate the "one-year mercenaries" who are simply there to help a team win a conference or national championship.

I can't imagine any basketball player capable of playing for a major college that would sit out even one season in order to play college basketball if there was any other option available to them. In other words, the only player who would be willing to sit out would be one who is not good enough to play anywhere else for money and, to be honest, while there may be some DII institutions willing to do so, I can't imagine there would be many DI institutions who would give that caliber of player a scholarship to sit out for a year.

There will be very few who would be willing to pay this price to regain their college eligibility, and I believe, as do many others, that those who are trying to come up with wild scenarios of what could happen are simply wrong. This is good legislation drafted and passed by people that care about collegiate athletics in general, and student-athletes in particular. Many, and at first glance I must include you based on your commentary, that are not fully aware of the facts, or the current abuses of the rules, are speaking on an issue that they do not fully understand.

In today's society it doesn't take much to frighten people into thinking they might lose something with any change. Change can be difficult, but it is also inevitable, and in this case it is good. It takes courage to lead change, especially in the face of the naysayers among us.

The NCAA is not some amorphous group that sits in Indianapolis. It is every institution that is a part of it, and the DII membership has decided this is good change. I agree. It is leading the way to a better future, and as stated by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., "The great thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving."

Kelly J. Higgins, Ed.D.

Director of Athletics

The University of

South Dakota

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