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Last year the NCAA adopted legislation that established scholarship limits for swimming, track, soccer, baseball and other sports usually categorized as "non-income-producing."
For swimming, the limit was set at 11 out of a total of 80 scholarships for all non-revenue sports. This policy rankled various NCAA members, who wanted the rule written to give each school the right to determine how its 80 scholarships would be allocated. Proposals to that end, however, were rejected. So were 10 similar ones by the Pac 8 at this year's NCAA convention.
That's when USC, a perennial swimming power that has won national titles the last four seasons, decided to make a test case. Because the USC soccer program—which also is allotted 11 scholarships—is of the non-varsity, club variety, the decision was made to offer soccer scholarships to three blue-chip California high school swimmers. Understandably, USC's move has touched off a Pac-8 investigation and caused a flap that may extend to other NCAA schools.
Dr. Richard Perry, the USC athletic director, admits that his school is uncomfortable in the situation it has deliberately created. "That great big book we have to deal with [ NCAA rules and regulations] came about because people behaved the way we are behaving," he says. "You establish a rule and someone avoids it by creating a new interpretation, and on and on. What we are saying is that we are violating the spirit of an NCAA rule. Our contention is that the rule is in violation of the spirit of fair competition.
"Our objection is that, except in football and basketball, the number limits are not body counts but equivalencies. In swimming, for instance, you may have the equivalent of 11 full scholarships, but you're allowed to take 19 swimmers to the NCAA championships. It takes no math genius to figure out that 11 very good swimmers will not score as many points as 19 very good swimmers."
Perry also charges that the rule is unfair to private universities like USC and Stanford, whose tuition is much higher than that at state-supported institutions. "If we offer a half-scholarship," he says, "it's going to cost an athlete nearly $2,000 for tuition alone. A similar half-scholarship at a state school would cost between $282 and $319.50."
Perry has no complaint with the Pac-8 investigation. "They are upset with us for the right reasons," he says. "The directors are saying, 'Hey, we understand the problem and we are willing to help you resolve it within the system.' But we tried that once and got nowhere. We can't afford to lose our momentum."
Nonetheless, USC has suspended its controversial recruiting program and told Kirk McGowan, Mike Kelley and Doug Frazier, the three prospective swimming stars, that they will have to play soccer next season. This may be a tall order; none of them has ever seriously played the game before.
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