Non U.S. Athletes and Amateur Eligibility
By Jeff Miller of the Dallas Morning News
“The lines seem to be quite blurred,” said Lubbock Christian’s David Vernon, the eligibility chairman for the NAIA’s Sooner Athletic Conference. “Sometimes obtaining information about eligibility is close to impossible.”
The director said the use of the form was discontinued “due to the fact that the foreign sports federations either did not realize what they were signing, or they simply did not care.”
Quite a Scope
Martynas Pocius, an official in the Lithuanian women’s basketball league, was asked by e-mail to explain why some players whose names appear on rosters for teams in that league—promoted as semiprofessional according to the NCAA—can be eligible to play in USA college teams. Pocius’s reply was “Unfortunately, it is beyond my scope to explain.”
Redshirt freshman guard Abiola Wabara from Italy just joined Baylor’s women’s basketball team last week, sitting out the Lady Bears’ first seven games because of her time with an Italian professional team. Baylor coaches knew when they signed Wabara that she would have to sit out a number of games.
Sometimes the situation isn’t so clear. Oklahoma women’s basketball coach Sherri Coale said it was very difficult to verify the status of guard Maria Villarroel from Venezuela last year, when Villarroel transferred from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, a junior college.
“It’s not much fun to have to prove it,” Coale said. “You’re dealing over the telephone with people that can’t speak your language, trying to ask them for a specific document that provides a specific type of information that they’re all saying is true. But we have to have the document with that seal.”
“Within the club sports structure, there’s a variety of levels,” Big 12 Conference commissioner Kevin Weiberg said. “They’re different from country to country. It’s very difficult to be certain what is a B club team in France compared to a B club team in Germany.”
The NCAA’s recent memorandum included 25 suggested questions for deciding whether a student athlete played professionally abroad. It also included links to explain various countries’ systems of play—what leagues it considers pro and, in some instances, what individual teams or clubs are considered professional even though an entire league isn’t.
“I remember one case in our league where a young athlete had come from Nigeria via Russia and was playing in France. Figuring out along the way what happened with that person, where had he received benefits beyond routine travel expenses, was very difficult.”
New Baylor men’s basketball coach Scott Drew gained his expertise in international recruiting while coaching at Valparaiso, which signed 10 foreign players over the last eight years. He compares international recruiting to an accountant’s keeping up with changes in tax laws each year.
“If you specialize in it, you pretty much get to know which areas you can recruit in—as long as you stay on top of things,” said Drew, who has already signed players from Senegal and Australia for the Bears. “One year, the league might be amateur. Three years later, it might be professional.”
Florian Waninger is a longtime administrator at FIBA, basketball’s international governing body. Waninger said he agrees that there is a difference in definitions at the center of the amateurism argument, and he is annoyed that American colleges consider scholarship athletes amateurs.
“What is a cash payment compared to a scholarship?” Waninger asked. He called college amateurism rules “ridiculous.”
Confusion apparently isn’t the only barrier to determining eligibility.