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St. John's University sophomore Erick Barkley's well-documented battles with the NCAA have drawn interest from outside the basketball world.
U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) has gotten involved and introduced the "Collegiate Athletics Due Process Act of 2000" last week.
The legislation would give student athletes due process in any NCAA or university investigation when the student athlete is alleged to have violated sports amateurism rules.
"This past season, college basketball fans have witnessed student-athletes fall victim at the mercy of the NCAA for alleged violations or infractions of sports amateurism rules," Meeks said. "These young people are subjected to having their lives dissected before the public on mere allegations and without any independent legal representation during the investigation."
One of the key points of the proposed legislation that the university must provide the student athlete with separate legal counsel, who will be retained through the entire investigation at the institute's expense immediately upon any investigation or alleged violation.
The student athlete must have the opportunity to be heard before an arbitrator or neutral party not associated with the NCAA or a member institute before any disciplinary actions are taken.
All hearings shall include the opportunity for the student athlete to be heard, to have the right of controverting, by proof, every material fact which bears on the question of the individual involved.
Any enforcement action taken by a university, in compliance with the rules or legislation of the NCAA for amateur sports violations, shall be clearly established on the basis of specific and guidelines for all possible infractions, including punishment or restitution.
"The current investigatory process violates the student-athletes' rights," Meeks said. "These young people are not slaves. It is very disturbing that young student-athletes, with very limited or no resources at all, must defend themselves against a powerful organization like the NCAA.
"It is time for the NCAA to apply our democratic principles to collegiate athletes and treat them with the constitutional respect they deserve but are often denied."
Barkley was suspended twice by the NCAA for violating the governing body's rules. In early February, Barkley missed two games because his swapping sports utility vehicles with a family friend was deemed an unfair benefit. Later that month Barkley missed another game because Riverside Church paid for a portion of his tuition during his one year at Maine Central Institute.
When asked about Meeks' proposed legislation, St. John's head coach Mike Jarvis, speaking via telephone from Indianapolis, said, "I think it's a good beginning."
Meeks is not the only person asking for change. Last Thursday Cedric Dempsey, the president of the NCAA, called for sweeping changes, including limiting new scholarships, banning summer recruiting and redefining amateurism.
"Change is always scary within an organization," Dempsey said during a news conference at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, site of the men's Final Four. "We need to look at those rules and see how far we're prepared to go. We're ready to go a long way."
The changes will be presented later this month to the Division I Management Council and could be submitted to the full membership at the annual NCAA meeting next January.
The current scholarship limit is 13, with no restrictions on how many are used each year. Part of the proposal is to tie scholarships to graduation rates.
Schools with graduation rates of 75 percent or more could award 14 scholarships. A 33 to 74 percent graduate rate would be allowed 13 and a rate of 32 percent or less would get 12.
As for summer camps, most of which are sponsored by athletic shoe companies, Dempsey said the NCAA would eliminate recruiting there by 2001 if the proposal, which was soundly rejected by the National Association of Basketball Coaches, who also met last Thursday, passed.
Dempsey said he hoped the proposal would "change the culture of summer programs."
In exchange for not being able to recruit during the summer, Dempsey proposed the NCAA would increase evaluation days during the academic year from 40 to 70.
"I'm in favor of doing what's best for the kids and for the majority of the schools," Jarvis said. "And those are decisions that should be made by the coaches and the players."
Possibly the most radical change proposed by Dempsey would allow a student-athlete to leave school, play professionally and then return to school and be able to regain his eligibility. If a student-athlete left a school as a sophomore, played professionally for one year and wanted to return to school, he would lose just one year of eligibility. A vote on that issue would not take place until April 2001.
Dempsey also addressed high school or prep school tuition assistance during the news conference.
"I think in theory we do not disagree with that at all," he said. "There is some disagreement as to where you draw the line as to who provides the financial aid."
©2000 Community Newspaper Group
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