Howard Is Checked

Ray McAllister
Date Published: 
Daily Collegian

It went pretty much unnoticed but around the beginning of last week, NCAA headquarters in Kansas City send around an investigator to Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Howard, it may be remembered, took a wholly foreign team and walked off with the NCAA's soccer championship in Miami Beach last December. Boy, were some people mad about it.

NCAA coaches, for example. They got together last winder and aired their feelings about the whole thing. Howard, most of them felt, was using players clearly ineligible by NCAA standards. The Bisons were, in effect, recruiting or even buying a championship.

Howard has most if its powerhouse team back again this year (indeed it has a very secure spot on the top of the national rankings) and the NCAA man is down there checking the whole thing out. Searching for recruiting violations, including possible uses of pro players, he is interviewing players and examining their academic records. His preliminary report is due within about a week.

"They did not tell me directly what it is about," Leo Miles, Howard's athletic director was quoted as saying in the Washington Post. "But you can be sure it involved violations of the 1.6 admissions and eligibility rule."

Collegiate athletes, of course, are required to maintain (or, if freshman, predict) a 1.6 scholastic average to participate in NCAA-sanctioned sports. Most of the Bisons come from Trinidad, South America and Africa. Backgrounds alone suggest that it's unlikely they're all maintaining 1.6's.

Howard coach Lincoln Phillips seems to think the while thing's a conspiracy to strip the Bisons of junior All-American Keith Aqui. The other coaches, he says, would like nothing better than to deprive him of Aqui's offensive power.

"It's a plot to get rid of him because they know he's our main man," Phillips said. "The other coaches are jealous of him. He's so good they think he must have played professionally somewhere. But there isn't even a pro team in his home town in Trinidad."

The professionalism is another interesting aspect of the whole thing. Playing for professional teams naturally disqualifies one for collegiate competition and there is a strong, though still unsubstantiated, suspicion that several, maybe most, of the Bisons have played for such teams.

Howard may be in violation of an age rule, also. A foreign player loses a year of eligibility for every year over the age of 21 he is, the rules say more or less. At 25, therefore, a foreigner has no eligibility whatsoever.

Rumors were all over the place when Penn State was down at Howard last December that Aqui was 25 or 26 or 29 or pretty old, anyway, probably too old. Half the team, the proverbial "they" said, was probably too old, too.

The treatment the Lions received down there, incidentally, was pretty rude for an NCAA quarterfinal game. Or any game at all, really. The field itself was sloping and stripped bare of grass. The Bisons themselves did not even arrive on the field until five minutes after the scheduled starting time; they then proceeded to go through their warmup drills.

Once the game did begin, it was debatable whether their game was strictly within the rules. (It should be pointed out, though, that thier game was far superior to that of the Lions', whom they bombed 8-0.) Oh, and the fans were beautiful. One of them had a microphone hooked up to a car battery and led the rest in derisively taunting the visitors. All in all, a real class show.

Other universities had noticed virtually the same thing when they played down there but nothing had been done. One of the main reasons: Howard is predominantly black. Cries of racism would erupt, everyone felt, if any checking was done and certainly no one wanted that.

But everything piled on top of everything else and the thing became too large to ignore without embarrassment. Thus came the NCAA's relatively unnoticed checkup.

The preliminary report should give some groundwork as to what, if anything, Howard is guilty of and what should be done. But it'll be a while before anything substantial will be done if indeed there is to be anything done at all.

Still at least the NCAA is making an attempt to clear up the situation, to either put Howard on probation or clear it of the charges. At any rate it should end the rumors and ill feelings and put collegiate soccer in a respectable light.