Did Howard U. win a tainted crown?

Ray McAllister
Date Published: 
Daily Collegian

(Second of a two-part series on developments which rose out of the recent collegiate soccer coaches convention in St. Louis.)

Just two days before Nebraska and Alabama met for the supremacy of college football, the Orange Bowl hosted another battle for number one. On Poly-Turf, Howard University took the 1971 NCAA soccer championship by tripping up defending champion St. Louis, 3-2. The Bisons, let it be know won on no fluke: they were a powerful team. But there is strong evidence they should not have been on the field to begin with.

Howard, it seems, has come under recent attack for the suspected ineligibility of its players.

"Ther is a rule limiting the age of an athlete from a foreign country," said Penn State coach Herb Schmidt. "But, like any rule, it has loopholes."

A foreign player over the age 19, the rule says, loses one year of eligibility for each year he has played with an unsanctioned soccer club. Under no circumstances is a foreign athlete allowed to be over 24.

Of course, it is not always an easy task to prove a player has been on an unsanctioned club, as Schmidt can attest. He was to receive an article listing the clubs for which Howard's All-American, Keith Aqui, palyed while at home in Trinidad. But it proved to be somewhat less conclusive than he expected.

"The article wasn't quite what I had hoped for," Schmidt said. "It merely indicated that Aqui is 26."

Aqui's age in itself is enough to have Howard declared ineligible but there are quite a few otheres on the team who also are believed over-age. All of this brings up a rather interesting question. Why hasn't the NCAA -- the same NCAA which disqualified Villanova's basketball team when Howard Porter inked his signature on a contract -- done anything yet or has even looked into the situation? And will it ever do anything at all?

Said Schmidt in reply: "If it was football, I would say yes; if it was basketball, yes; but soccer, no.

"The thinking of athletic directors is that there is no money in soccer," he said. "That means there is no 'dirty money,' no gambling, no betting and so forth. So they don't look into it.

"You have to remember, we're dealing with what, in the minds of many, is just aminor sport," he said.

Schmidt refrained from specifically mentioning Howard at the recent coaches meeting, although others there didn't.

"We're in a difficult position, as are the other schools that played Howard, in that it's very easy to look like sour grapes," he said.

Schmidt was referring to his team's 8-0 disaster at the hands of the Bisons in December's quarter-final match. Penn State played gutty ball but was just totally outmanned, that's all. Schmidt could have blocked off his goal with a concrete wall and Howard would have still managed three or four goals. They were that good.

But it seems unfortunate that an NCAA quarter-final match was held on a sloping field nearly stripped bare of grass and that the host team did not show until five minutes after the scheduled start time. The goalposts, which, by NCAA rules, had to be square, were round.

Howard's off-the-field behavior is curious, too. For instance it sent in its annual NCAA dues only after being assured its tournament berth. And the team just returned home from scrimmaging the Jamaican Olympic team, a team which coincidentally, will be one of those fighting the U.S. in pre-Olympic soccer eliminations.

The NCAA, though, has remained silent through it all. One reason most frequently mentioned for this silence is Howard's being primarily black (Figures in Sports Illustrated put the white enrollment under five percent). Cries of racism would erupt before the NCAA could get its first sentence out.

"I think this is a natural fear at this time," said Schmidt. "You have to be careful what you say.

"But I font' feel this is a black-white issue," he continued. "It could have been German boys, it could have been English boys."

Schmidt is right, of course: it is not a race issue at all. The NCAA therefore must begin getting touch with schools and the schools must begin getting touch with themselves.

"In the four years I've been here I've had seven kids wanting to play soccer who were deemed ineligible but who were close to being eligible than many of those we played against," said Schmidt.

One of those seven made the unfortunate mistake of playing in a summer recreation league between his junior and senior years.

"He had the integrity to tell me, not wanting to get Penn State in trouble," said Schmidt. "we took the story to the NCAA and they said 'ineligible'."

Lest the absurdities continue, the NCAA will have to take a good look at intercollegiate soccer. The coaches, with their limiting foreign players, showed they are concerned with development of American soccer.

"The issue is what is best for soccer," said Schmidt. "That means it's go to be governed and logically, I think, the NCAA should do the governing."