John Steigerwald Column

Eligibility rules raise questions

Questioning eligibility rules

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Here we go again.


Questions are being raised about the wisdom and fairness of rules that deny athletes the freedom to play professional football and basketball at the highest levels.


Lots of NBA analysts had projected Nerlens Noel of Kentucky as the first overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft. He’s a 6-10 freshman who was leading the nation in blocked shots.


But, he blew out his knee Tuesday night and is done for the year. The kid was obviously ready for the NBA this season but he enrolled in the now infamous one-and-done program being run by coach John Calipari. Questions were raised about whether the colleges should allow athletes to take out insurance policies that are not limited, as they are now, to career-ending injuries. Noel’s story also caused the usual debates on talk shows and in columns about whether it’s right (or American) for the NBA to prevent players from turning pro immediately after high school.


Then there is Jadeveon Clowney. He’s a 6-6, 256-pound defensive end at South Carolina who’s being held hostage by the NFL’s un-American rule that says a player is ineligible until he’s three full seasons removed from his high school graduation. Some smart people think that Clowney, if not for the rule, would be the first pick in the 2013 NFL draft.


Tom Sorenson, a columnist for the Charlotte Observer, suggested Clowney sit out the 2013 college football season rather than risk an injury that could cost him millions of dollars in April 2014.


All the usual ridiculous arguments were made. My favorite is, “The kid should get an education.”


Yeah. You mean the way the Calipari’s one-and-done kids do?


Then there’s Beau Bennett.


He’s a 6-1, 185-pound hockey player who made his debut for the Penguins Friday night. He was their No. 1 draft pick in 2010, when he was a few months short of his 19th birthday. Bennett went to the Penguins’ training camp even though nobody in the organization believed he was ready for the NHL.


And guess what he did after training camp?


He went to the University of Denver, where he played for two seasons. Football and basketball players lose their eligibility for making eye contact with an agent and this kid gets drafted and still maintains his sacred college eligibility?


Why is a hockey player’s amateur status any less sacred than a football or basketball player’s?


If the colleges were really interested in the welfare of their student-athletes, why wouldn’t they allow a kid to be drafted by the Steelers, go to training camp and then have the option of enrolling in school? Is it because the Steelers are concerned about the kid throwing away the opportunity for a free college education?


Sure it is.


• The NFL is getting there.


The league is talking about widening the field to make the game safer. It’s the next best thing to shrinking the players, which the NFL could do if it had a drug-testing system that any expert considered effective.


Bill Polian, who’s been a general manager in both the NFL and Canadian Football League, where the field is 65 yards wide compared to the NFL’s, which is 53½, thinks it’s a good idea. He told the National Football Post, “You would have more space and perhaps a safer game. I say that based on my CFL experience. There are less collisions of that type in the Canadian game.” Warren Moon, who played quarterback in both leagues, agrees. He says there are fewer helmet-to-helmet hits in Canada. Both Moon and Polian said the wider field would lead to more scoring. This is an idea the NFL should seriously consider, along with one or two other CFL rules that would make NFL games more exciting.


•The sissification of the planet got a boost when the International Olympic Committee announced a few days ago that it would be dropping wrestling for the 2020 Games. Rhythmic gymnastics is OK. Wrestling, an actual sport that is popular all over the world and has been around for about 3,000 years is not. What’s next, gardening?


Meanwhile, on the 26th of this month, in Harrisburg, Mary and Jim Grenen will meet with the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association and the attorney general of Pennsylvania. They’re trying to get around a 30-year-old Pennsylvania law that allows boys to play on girls field hockey teams. As shocking as it seems, some girls have been injured after being run over by boys wearing skirts. Where is the human race when the attorney general of a state has to take time to pass a law that says boys playing on girls teams is a bad idea?


I’m trying to picture myself as a kid walking out the front door wearing a skirt and telling my dad that I’m on my way to play for the girls field hockey team.


Words can’t describe how glad I am to have grown up when I did.



John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.


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