PROVIDENCE, R.I. — More than 70 foreign men's college basketball players are in eligibility trouble with the NCAA, but they aren't ready to head to the sidelines without a fight.
The National Association of Basketball Coaches held a conference call Thursday with representatives of more than 60 schools to consider courses of action in response to a recent NCAA campaign against foreign players who may have played on professional teams before entering college. The NCAA is claiming those players violated amateurism rules and could face long suspensions.
Providence College coach Tim Welsh and assistant athletic director Joseph D'Antonio both were on the call. The NCAA has asked PC to furnish information on the background of three players: Maris Laksa (from Latvia), Chris Anrin (Sweden) and incoming freshman Tuukka Kotti of Finland. PC was recently granted an extension by the NCAA and must reply by Oct. 7.
Reggie Minton, the NABC's assistant director, said everyone would like the NCAA's Management Council to consider this issue at its next meeting, Oct. 22-23.
"We were trying to share information, really, because each school has been on an island with this issue," said Minton. "Now we have an excellent idea of how many schools are involved and we'll put together a document for the coaches and NCAA and give them food for thought."
Welsh said that an expected consensus is to grandfather all foreign players in for this season with little or no penalty, then set guidelines for future recruitment of foreign players.
"What was said is hopefully we'll all work together on this and get to the Management Council and grandfather these kids in," Welsh said. "Our kids did nothing wrong. We're gathering information and we hold ground that they haven't violated any rules."
On the surface, the three Friars all clearly violated the NCAA's rules prohibiting participation on professional teams. They each played with pros in their teenage years on club teams in their hometowns. However, one part of the rule states that someone must "knowingly play on a professional team."
"Chris Anrin was just playing on his club team, the one kids in his town played for," Welsh said. "He didn't know who was paying who or what they were getting paid. That's not a pro team."
If the NCAA follows through on threats to suspend players for every game they played with a pro team, sources say Laksa could miss as many as a dozen games this season. Anrin and Kotti could miss as many as 25 games, or virtually the entire season.
Of course, foreigners who've played on club teams have played at American colleges for years. The NCAA has asked its membership to develop a new definition of "amateurism" for college basketball recruits but has gotten nowhere. Now, perhaps to force the issue, the NCAA is choosing to act by the letter of its rules even though the amateurism guidelines were never intended to apply to European high schoolers.
"You have kids playing basketball here because they followed someone else from their country. Same league and same team," Minton said. "To say now, that's wrong, that isn't fair. We don't think it's right."