Scholarship rule hits hard among OVC men's teams

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Southeast Missouri State University is not the only Ohio Valley Conference men's basketball team that has been hampered by NCAA scholarship regulations, although the Indians have certainly been affected the most.

A poll of the OVC's men's head basketball coaches revealed that just one of the league's nine teams is playing with the maximum 13 scholarships that the NCAA allows for any one season.

The Indians, because of defections over the past two seasons coupled with players completing their eligibility, have been hit the hardest by an NCAA regulation put into place three years ago that limits Division I men's teams to signing a maximum of five players in one year and eight over a two-year period.

Division I women's teams, which are allowed a maximum of 15 scholarships, are not affected by the rule, meaning they can sign as many players as they want per year as long as they don't exceed 15 scholarships at any one time.

Southeast has had just nine eligible scholarship players this season and that figure drops to eight when Reggie Golson is subtracted. Golson played in just one game before taking a medical redshirt due to a knee injury. Last year, the Indians had 10 scholarship players.

"That scholarship rule has probably hurt us more than anything the last couple of years," Southeast's Gary Garner said. "We've been shorthanded and if you have any injuries, it can hurt you."

Nearing full strength

The Indians have just two seniors this year and will get back to just about full scholarship strength next season -- as long as no player decides to leave, which rarely happens, Garner pointed out.

"Everybody loses a player or two to injury, not playing, whatever. I think the national average is teams lose a little over two players per year for various reasons," Garner said. "Very seldom is there a program in the country that doesn't lose a player."

Eastern Illinois is the only OVC team that has 13 available scholarship players this season. But Rick Samuels said the Panthers will be affected by the rule the next few seasons since they have five seniors this year and will have four next year.

Austin Peay, in second place in the OVC, has 12 scholarship players -- and Dave Loos said he considers himself lucky.

"We're just one short. We're one of the fortunate programs," Loos said.

Tennessee Tech, which has won the last two OVC regular-season titles, is at 12 scholarships this year, but because of having five seniors both this season and next, the Eagles will be at less than full strength for a while.

OVC leader Morehead State, Murray State, Tennessee-Martin, Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee State are all at 11 scholarships, but Tennessee-Martin is playing with 10 because one of the Skyhawks suffered a season-ending injury early in the year.

"I doubt if there's a lot of programs in the country playing with 13 scholarships," Garner said.

The intent of the rule was to keep coaches from running off players because they aren't happy with their performance. But OVC coaches say that rarely, if ever, happened.

"I don't think coaches were running people off. Kids are leaving because of playing time and other reasons," Loos said.

Garner said it's a bad rule -- and other coaches agree.

"I think it's the worst rule the NCAA has ever passed," Garner said. "I don't know of one coach who likes it."

Said Tennessee-Martin's Bret Campbell, "It's absolutely the worst rule in the history of college basketball. We lost seven seniors last year, so we're being penalized for that."

Most of the coaches seem confident the rule will be rescinded at some point, or at least modified.

"It has to, I don't think there's a choice,"Eastern Kentucky coach Travis Ford said. "I think you should allow 13 scholarship players period and not limit how many you sign in one year or two years. Just don't have people play with less than 13. That's only fair."

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