WASHINGTON -- In an attempt to change NCAA rules that it believes reduce the opportunity for blacks to play and coach major college basketball, as well as legislate at the highest levels of intercollegiate athletics, the Black Coaches Association (BCA) has enlisted the help of Congress.
After a 90-minute meeting yesterday with an estimated 50 men's and women's coaches, Rep. Kweisi Mfume, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said that a task force will be established to look at the problems that have grown out of recent cuts in scholarships and coaching jobs in Division I basketball.
"We are in a battle to win the lives of our children," said Mfume, a Democrat who represents Maryland's 7th District.
That battle led to the BCA's decision to boycott this week's National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Issues Summit in Charlotte, N.C., and could lead to other action, including a possible boycott of the first official practice day Nov. 1.
Among those attending yesterday's meeting were prominent college coaches, including John Thompson of Georgetown, Nolan Richardson of Arkansas, Randy Ayers of Ohio State, George Raveling of Southern Cal and Vivian Stringer of Iowa. Raveling is a vice president of the NABC.
Asked how long this battle would last, BCA executive director Rudy Washington of Drake said, "Until the changes are actually made."
Among the changes the BCA wants the NCAA to consider are: re-establishing a 15-scholarship limit that existed as recently as two years ago; keeping the current academic guidelines for freshman eligibility intact rather than proceeding with more stringent rules beginning in 1995; increasing the access college coaches and players have to disadvantaged youth in their communities, regardless of whether they are talking to prospective recruits.
Under the new rules, a freshman would need to enter college with either a 2.5 grade-point average or a 900 score on the Scholastic Assessment Test (21 on the ACT) to be eligible for a Division I athletic scholarship. The standards currently are 2.0 and 700 (or 18).
Thompson, the most impassioned speaker at a news conference after the meeting, said many of the coaches attending yesterday would not have been given the opportunity to play, or eventually coach, under current NCAA guidelines.
"The problem is standardization," said Thompson, who staged a one-man boycott of Proposition 48 guidelines a few years ago by leaving the bench and walking out of the Capital Centre before a Georgetown game. "If you standardize all the missions of all the institutions out there and make them all the same, then a certain element of society is automatically eliminated -- and that includes the poor and certain Afro-Americans. We coaches are all for standards. But we are not for the misuse of academic instruments by educational institutions. You just can't do that."
Said Mfume: "The passion Mr. Thompson spoke with is the same passion all of us share for the young people in our communities. Our motivation is for the young people who want to make something of themselves. And this is a society that will provide them with that opportunity."
Temple coach John Chaney said he would like to encourage his players to get out more in the community and would like to see "mandatory year-round community service" as part of the annual scholarship agreement. But Chaney said that won't happen until the rules are changed.
"Why can't we use our athletes to change the problems?" asked Chaney. "Right now, the NCAA would not allow us to."
Aside from announcing the formation of a task force, Mfume outlined a plan of action that includes requesting a meeting with NCAA officials. Outgoing NCAA executive director Dick Schultz said last week that he hoped to meet with members of the BCA to discuss the situation.
Though many of the NCAA guidelines that the BCA find objectionable have been in existence for a couple of years, Washington said his organization's recent action grew out of complaints by high school coaches during a national convention in Atlanta earlier this year.
"It wasn't just one guy. It was a great number of coaches coming up to people like John Thompson and George Raveling and Nolan Richardson and telling them that they couldn't get scholarships for their kids," said Washington.