Pikesville grad calls for overseas conference Zirkin wants an 'NCAA' for European schools


As if the stakes weren't important enough, end-of-the-game developments transformed the Nov. 23, 1991 contest between the London School of Economics and Oxford University of England into more than just a regular-season evening of amateur basketball.

The game -- matching up the top two ranked teams in British university basketball -- went into three overtimes and was won by top-ranked London School of Economics, 91-89, on a last-second shot.

But the show of support from the British sporting community for this game was pathetic, as 25 fans were on hand.

Bobby Zirkin, who played in the game, knew that this type of sporting event had marketing potential. Zirkin, a 1989 graduate of Pikesville High School, studied at the London School of Economics for a semester his junior year at Johns Hopkins.

If Christian Laettner's epic shot to oust Kentucky two years ago could attract an entire country's attention, then why couldn't his team's dramatic win? It was during the game against Oxford that Zirkin realized the need improvement in European university athletics.

So Zirkin, 22, began a plan to create an offshoot of the NCAA. He called it the European University Sports Community.

What was originally just a sudden series of thoughts, fueled through talks with his teammates and players on the Oxford team at a post-pub gathering, has become much more.

Zirkin, who graduated from Johns Hopkins in May with a degree in political science, has his future plans figured out -- thanks to a $15,000 Thomas J. Watson fellowship he received one month earlier. He will use this grant and return to Europe today to develop his plan.

In the final stages, the EUSC would preside over an alliance of university sports in Europe. Zirkin said the European University Sports Community has a number of positive possibilities. It would work to create stronger ties between the universities and their communities. It would serve as a link for student-athletes of different nations. And it would help to promote goals of the European community.

"I don't want this to be an association of countries," he said. "I don't want there to be a tournament at the end of the year and have the schools being recognized as country vs. country. I want it to be school vs. school and I want there to be conferences that have schools from different countries involved. I don't want it to have a nationalistic approach."

Zirkin got his biggest break when he went to Belgium for the second semester. While attending American University's World Capitals program in Brussels, he was able to network within the European community and determine that he had a bona fide project.

"I started talking to people from the FISU [the International Federation for University Sports, an organization which puts on the World University Games] and the Olympic Committee," he said. "That's when it started getting more realistic. Although many of them had reservations about the project, they all thought it was an excellent idea worth pursuing. They weren't going to give me $4 million but they were willing to help me continue the project."

Zirkin also spoke with athletic directors throughout Belgium and across Europe. At each meeting, he presented the individual with a proposal asking for formal backing. And so when he returned to the United States, Zirkin had accumulated support from a variety of important officials.

Now when he goes back to Europe, Zirkin will dive into the project with a list full of help -- and a prestigious fellowship for financial backing.

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