Much fuss is made over the NCAA toughening eligibility standards for freshmen and returning athletes. The National Junior College Athletic Association addressed that issue long ago, the result being that it's harder for a JUCO player to remain eligible than it is someone under the NCAA umbrella.
A JUCO freshman must pass 12 credits with a 1.75 grade-point average in the fall semester to continue playing basketball. To play as a sophomore, he or she must carry over 24 credits with a 2.0 GPA.
"The good player who's a decent student is going to end up at an NCAA institution," said Wheeler Brown, the coach at Howard Community College. "A lot of times we're getting kids who are academically deficient to begin with, and the pressure on them the first year is pretty intense.
"At most junior colleges, you don't have dorms or full-time coaches. Freshmen are learning to manage their time, and it's a struggle for them to remain eligible."
Brown coaches the No. 5 team in NJCAA's Division III, but seven of his 15 players were academically ineligible at the end of the first semester. Brown is fortunate in that Howard has a January inter-session, and he hopes to get six of those seven players back by the end of the month.
In the meantime, he's better off than some other state schools. Anne Arundel coach Mark Amatucci lost three players -- two from Lake Clifton -- but the Pioneers still earned a forfeit over harder-hit Montgomery-Rockville.
Dundalk had to forfeit to Allegany yesterday because nine of its 13 players didn't meet the standards. Five of the nine are done for the year, and the other four are trying to make up incomplete grades. If they don't, Dundalk might not play again this year.
* Towson State opens its women's gymnastics season Sunday (1 p.m.) at the Towson Center against Penn State. The Nittany Lions finished fifth in the NCAA championships last year, when the Tigers won their fifth straight ECAC title.
Coach Dick Filbert's rebuilding plans were hampered when Wendy Weaver had back problems in the offseason. A senior from Newark, Del., Weaver set a school record of 38.375 at the 1990 NCAA Regionals, but missed most of last season with a shoulder injury.
Junior Gabby Linarducci is the defending ECAC all-around champion, and senior Julie Heilman and junior Janine Spezio are other experienced hands. Wendy Chalmers, a sophomore transfer from Bowie who helped Alabama to an NCAA title, and four freshmen have to step forward for the Tigers, who defend their state championship Feb. 2 at College Park.
* Navy track coach Steve Cooksey has lined up an interesting tri-meet that will bring Georgetown and William & Mary to Halsey Field House Saturday (noon). That field should produce some fine distance races, as all three were among the region's best in cross country.
William & Mary isn't as familiar to locals, but the program there is also deep in distance talent. The freshman class includes Pat Rodrigues, the former Centennial High star (9:16 for 3,200 meters) who wasn't quick enough to accompany the Tribe to the NCAA cross country championships in November.
* Erica Herbert, a junior point guard from Western, and Melissa Cuneo, a freshman forward out of Seton-Keough, have helped the Mount St. Mary's women (8-2) stay atop the Northeast Conference.
Herbert was sidelined much of last season with a knee injury, but she's back at the point guard position she earned as a freshman and is closing in on her 200th career assist. Cuneo is playing 11 minutes a game for the Mountaineers, who have a key conference game at Fairleigh-Dickinson tonight.
* Shepherd's Brooks Bennett, a junior linebacker out of Calvert Hall, was the West Virginia IAC Defensive Player of the Year . . . Navy can improve its national wrestling standing with a victory at Penn State Saturday . . . Charles Hatcher, who began his basketball career at Loyola in 1988, is now at St. Francis, N.Y., which beat Mount St. Mary's Monday.