Tuesday, April 29, 2003

London soccer player caught in NCAA eligibility fog

By MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

The last time we left one of London's better-known soccer players, he was being disappointed by a professional soccer team in England. Tyler Hemming, who played for London City of the Canadian Professional Soccer League, was as close as one could be to earning a scholarship contract with Grimsby Town in England. But at the last moment, a television sponsor pulled the plug and there was no money to be had.
With the dream of playing for a youth side in England gone, Hemming has been inundated with scholarship offers to play in the United States.
But he may be in for another disappointment. Having played since the age of 15 with City, Hemming worries he might have a problem with scholarship eligibility. City plays in a professional soccer league. While Harry Gauss, general manager of the team, says neither Hemming nor any of his other players are paid to play soccer, NCAA eligibility rules are strict about the need to remain clean.
For example, a hockey player who is considering an NCAA scholarship can attend an Ontario Hockey League training camp but can't participate in any games, including exhibitions. If he does, he is considered ineligible for a scholarship.
But while the rules are strict, there are many grey areas. Does playing against professionals make a player ineligible? A member of Gauss's team played on scholarship for four years at a Division I school in the U.S. and there were no problems.
That said, Gauss is worried about the situation. He wants Hemming to play for him this summer and he believes he should be able to without ramifications by the NCAA.
"It's so disappointing. It's been a headache," said Cheryl Miller, Tyler's mother. "For some reason, this year is the first year and Tyler is the first kid that they're saying, 'No, we think we're going to play by the rules and we're wondering about his eligibility, his amateur status for NCAA.' A few big universities in the States have backed away from him, like Syracuse. There's about three or four that are still very interested in him."
The CPSL contacted the NCAA to ask about Hemming's eligibility and was sent a form letter with a chart describing what is allowed and what isn't. It says playing with professionals makes a player ineligible but no one on City is being paid to play.
"I'm worried but just a little bit," Hemming said. "I've never been paid and no one on the team has been paid. But the league didn't get a clear answer. For the smaller schools it's up to the individual NCAA rep but big schools like Syracuse told me to get back to them when I have a clear answer."
A representative from the NCAA media department said yesterday she would take the information to the board that decides eligibility. She said the information should be available by today.
"Tyler's had offers from many schools," Gauss said. "But some of the schools have backed off because they are worried about his eligibility. We've asked for answers and were told that it's up to the individual schools to make a decision. We need to know where we are. We have a goaltender, Josh Wagner, who is also in this situation. I would love to have him play but we don't want him to jeopardize anything. I wish the NCAA would give us something that's black or white."
The issue of NCAA purity is a prime example of a double standard. Players who want NCAA scholarships have to operate on the strictest levels when it comes to accepting anything. When they do make it to an NCAA school on a scholarship, they are banned from accepting even the smallest amount of help. The penalties to the player and school are extraordinary.
Meanwhile, the NCAA allows schools to make millions of dollars on the backs of these athletes. The schools work shoe deals, television contracts, bids to tournaments and bowl games and collect bushels of money from alumni, yet the poor athlete who generates all this cash better not be caught being given a pair of shoes or it's the chair for him.
It's ridiculous, as ridiculous as any decision that would prevent Hemming from playing on scholarship in the United States.


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