he wheels don't always turn quickly in NCAAland, but one long awaited rule change finally came to pass this week.
Student-athletes who enter college as non-academic qualifiers and consequently have to sit out their first season, will now be able to regain their lost year of eligibility if they graduate within four years. Under the old system partial qualifiers were able to regain the year, while non-qualifiers were not.
The NCAA's Division I board of directors unanimously approved that change as well as several others at its meeting this week. The changes could be overturned by the NCAA's membership, but according to Graham Spanier, the chairman of the board of directors, that is highly unlikely.
"(The changes) had very strong support nationally from the NCAA's presidents across the country," he said.
If he completes his degree requirements in four years, Minuteman center Kitwana Rhymer would be eligible to take advantage of the rule. He is scheduled to be a senior next year, but could play two more years.
The rule was enacted for partial qualifiers following the 1996-97 season. Former Minuteman forward Tyrone Weeks was among the first to take advantage of it. Current UMass partial qualifier Monty Mack is reportedly on track to graduate in May and also plans to return for another year.
UMass coach Bruiser Flint has long been a supporter of changing the rule.
"If you take a kid's year away because he isn't academically up to par coming out of high school, then he should be rewarded if he is on track to graduate, no matter what. It's what you come out with, not what you come in with," Flint said last year. "We've been successful with it, so I don't mind having a kid sit out and getting his academic stuff together, but a kid should be rewarded if he does the work. Sometimes it's just about giving a kid an opportunity. If they get a little structure, they do fine."
Several other Atlantic 10 players could be affected, including Rhode Island's Zach Marbury and Temple's Quincy Wadley.
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The biggest change from the NCAA meetings came in the recruiting calendar. In an attempt to limit the influence of AAU coaches and sneaker companies in the recruiting process, the NCAA is gradually eliminating the summer recruiting period.
It will be unchanged this summer, but coaches will only be able to view players for 14 instead of 24 days in 2001. There will be no summer session in 2002 "unless a more workable system can be drawn up," according to the NCAA. Recruiting opportunities during the academic year will be expanded.
Other changes include:
* A cap on men's scholarships. No program can award more than five in a single year or eight in two years.
* Men's and women's basketball players will be allowed to extend their scholarships to attend summer school classes prior to their freshman year.
* Midyear transfers will be forced to wait until the following academic year to become eligible to play. For example, if a player decides to transfer after the fall semester, they will have to sit out the spring semester and the entire next school year before becoming eligible in the fall.
* Any athlete who shaves points or bets on his or her team will be banished. Any athlete found to be betting on other pro or college games will be suspended for a year for a first offense and permanently after that.
* Schools with graduation rates below 50 percent will have their scholarship limit reduced from 13 to 12.
* All Division I schools must conduct mandatory life-skills classes for athletes.
* Freshmen will be required to have a GPA of 2.0 or higher in their first semester to be eligible to compete in the second semester.
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Despite some published reports on the Internet, UMass coach Bruiser Flint has not hired an assistant coach to replace Tony Barbee yet.
"I haven't made up my mind yet," said Flint, who added that he hoped to hire someone early next week.
Manhattan assistant Chucky Martin is one of the candidates.
Former Minuteman guard Derek Kellogg, who is also a candidate for the opening, could still leave his current post at Youngstown State, even if he's not headed back to Amherst.
Former UMass coach John Calipari is reportedly interested in Kellogg and fellow ex-Minuteman Tyrone Weeks, who is currently an assistant at St. Bonaventure, to complete his staff at Memphis.
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UMass is one of three remaining teams in the hunt for New York City forward J.C. Mathis, who narrowed his once long list to Virginia, Georgia Tech and UMass. He will visit Georgia Tech this weekend before making his decision.
Mathis has already qualified and will be eligible to play next year wherever he decides to go.
UMass is still waiting to see if its signees Raheim Lamb and Anthony Anderson will be able to achieve the necessary combination of grades and standardized test scores to be eligible.
Another player whom the Minutemen had been recruiting, Taurence Johnson, a 6-foot-8 forward from Williamsport, Pa., has been reclassified as a junior.
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The 2000-01 UMass men's basketball schedule continues to develop. The Minutemen, who were formerly slated to play in the John Thompson Classic (formerly the Black Coaches Classic) have withdrawn from that event.
The Thompson Classic is an NCAA-certified event which means teams play more than one game, but it only counts as one game against a team's maximum number of games (29) allowed by the NCAA.
Schools are only allowed to play two certified events in a four-year period and UMass is slated to play in the Maui Classic in 2001 and Preseason NIT in 2002.
The Minutemen have added Oregon to the slate for this coming season, though, as they will take on the Ducks as part of a made-for-TV game in Portland at the Rose Garden.
UMass is also continuing to explore the possibility of a home-and-home with Auburn, while California is also a potential opponent.
Material from the Associated Press and www.NCAA.org was used in this report.