Wednesday, April 30, 2003

City link threatens Hemming scholarship

By KATHY RUMLESKI -- London Free Press

Tyler Hemming's association with London City of the Canadian Professional Soccer League may have cost him an American scholarship.
Hemming, 17, has played with City the past couple of seasons and even though he probably won't suit up with the team this year and has never been paid to play, his scholarship eligibility is in question.
Melody Lawrence, speaking for the U.S. National Collegiate Athletic Association, said that if a team declares itself professional, the amateur status of its players would be jeopardized if attending a Division I school in the U.S.
Lawrence said it doesn't matter how long ago Hemming played. He would still be violating rules.
A disappointed Hemming said all the schools he is considering are in Division I.
Lawrence said the rules in Divisions II and III are different, allowing an individual to participate on a pro team before enroling in college.
The student may still be subject to some penalties, though, including sitting out a year before being eligible.
If a Division I student has jeopardized his eligibility, the school would have to seek reinstatement of the student's eligibility through the student-athlete reinstatement procedures, Lawrence said.
City manager Harry Gauss reaction was: "It's unbelievable. . . . (U.S. colleges) scout the CPSL so heavily."
He said it was a Canadian university coach who first charged that anyone playing in the CPSL was NCAA-ineligible.
"The minute I heard the rumours, I said, 'We're going to check it out, officially.' "
Gauss estimated there are two dozen CPSL players who are on scholarship in the U.S., including London City's Eris Tafaj.
Tafaj is finishing his fourth and final year at the University of Detroit, also a Division I school.
Gauss said Tafaj's was a case of "let sleeping dogs lie."
Hemming has had several scholarship offers and is travelling to schools next month for campus visits.
He'll decide after those trips which university he'll attend.
"Ultimately, the institution to which he enrols would have to research this issue pretty thoroughly," said Lawrence.
CPSL administrator Stan Adamson, who has been looking into the rules since getting wind of Hemming's situation, said the league will help Hemming work through the problem.
"We believe he is OK. All is not lost," he said.
Adamson said the NCAA seems to have different rules for different leagues, and its policies change over time.
"We felt he was quite safe in being an amateur playing on a team that does not pay its players, even though it's a professional league."
Adamson said Hemming is in a tough situation because he has the skills to play professionally overseas and to be on a national team and playing in the CPSL is the highest level of play where he can hone his skills right now.
"He's caught between a scholarship and staying on track with his soccer."
Hemming is one of the young stars of the London soccer scene. He is a member of the national training program in Vaughan, north of Toronto. Last season he was named to the CPSL all-star squad, which faced Bundesliga's 1860 Munich in an exhibition game.
In 2001, at 16, he was the youngest player in the CPSL.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

London soccer player caught in NCAA eligibility fog

By MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

The last time we left one of London's better-known soccer players, he was being disappointed by a professional soccer team in England. Tyler Hemming, who played for London City of the Canadian Professional Soccer League, was as close as one could be to earning a scholarship contract with Grimsby Town in England. But at the last moment, a television sponsor pulled the plug and there was no money to be had.
With the dream of playing for a youth side in England gone, Hemming has been inundated with scholarship offers to play in the United States.
But he may be in for another disappointment. Having played since the age of 15 with City, Hemming worries he might have a problem with scholarship eligibility. City plays in a professional soccer league. While Harry Gauss, general manager of the team, says neither Hemming nor any of his other players are paid to play soccer, NCAA eligibility rules are strict about the need to remain clean.
For example, a hockey player who is considering an NCAA scholarship can attend an Ontario Hockey League training camp but can't participate in any games, including exhibitions. If he does, he is considered ineligible for a scholarship.
But while the rules are strict, there are many grey areas. Does playing against professionals make a player ineligible? A member of Gauss's team played on scholarship for four years at a Division I school in the U.S. and there were no problems.
That said, Gauss is worried about the situation. He wants Hemming to play for him this summer and he believes he should be able to without ramifications by the NCAA.
"It's so disappointing. It's been a headache," said Cheryl Miller, Tyler's mother. "For some reason, this year is the first year and Tyler is the first kid that they're saying, 'No, we think we're going to play by the rules and we're wondering about his eligibility, his amateur status for NCAA.' A few big universities in the States have backed away from him, like Syracuse. There's about three or four that are still very interested in him."
The CPSL contacted the NCAA to ask about Hemming's eligibility and was sent a form letter with a chart describing what is allowed and what isn't. It says playing with professionals makes a player ineligible but no one on City is being paid to play.
"I'm worried but just a little bit," Hemming said. "I've never been paid and no one on the team has been paid. But the league didn't get a clear answer. For the smaller schools it's up to the individual NCAA rep but big schools like Syracuse told me to get back to them when I have a clear answer."
A representative from the NCAA media department said yesterday she would take the information to the board that decides eligibility. She said the information should be available by today.
"Tyler's had offers from many schools," Gauss said. "But some of the schools have backed off because they are worried about his eligibility. We've asked for answers and were told that it's up to the individual schools to make a decision. We need to know where we are. We have a goaltender, Josh Wagner, who is also in this situation. I would love to have him play but we don't want him to jeopardize anything. I wish the NCAA would give us something that's black or white."
The issue of NCAA purity is a prime example of a double standard. Players who want NCAA scholarships have to operate on the strictest levels when it comes to accepting anything. When they do make it to an NCAA school on a scholarship, they are banned from accepting even the smallest amount of help. The penalties to the player and school are extraordinary.
Meanwhile, the NCAA allows schools to make millions of dollars on the backs of these athletes. The schools work shoe deals, television contracts, bids to tournaments and bowl games and collect bushels of money from alumni, yet the poor athlete who generates all this cash better not be caught being given a pair of shoes or it's the chair for him.
It's ridiculous, as ridiculous as any decision that would prevent Hemming from playing on scholarship in the United States.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Pro Dream Put in Perspective

The London Free Press -- April 21st 2003
By Kathy Rumleski, Free Press Sports Reporter

The world's most popular game has certainly been enjoying a lot of great press, especially after the wildly successful World Cup last year in Asia. Soccer continues to grow -- locally, provincially, nationally, worldwide -- and many Canadian kids dream of playing professional soccer. Hockey doesn't have the monopoly on their dreams like it once did. But there's a downside to the multi-billion-dollar industry that is coming to light as clubs everywhere seek the next superstar. Agents hunt voraciously for kids, even operating on the Internet. A lot of the teenagers that get sucked into the system are from the developing world. Most kids' dreams usually end in despair. Brazilian soccer star Pele, who many regard as the greatest footballer of all times, described it as "the slave trade." Kids under the ages of 16 are brought in from Brazil, Argentina and many African countries as potential players in European leagues and then dumped when they don't make the grade. It was refreshing, therefore, to hear Antonio Saviano speak recently. The North American co-ordinator for the soccer school of Italian Serie A club Perugia was in London recently to sign an affiliation agreement with London United Competitive Soccer Club. "To be honest," was a phrase he used frequently. Speaking superb English, Saviano made it clear finding a diamond in London is unlikely. But he chose his words carefully. Saviano didn't want to take away a player's hope, either. "Maybe one becomes a professional player," Saviano mused as he talked to a roomful of London United players. Maybe. Maybe not. For Saviano, what is more important than signing someone for Perugia is developing the players on and off the field, a cliche though it has become. One of his favourite examples of what the sport can do is how it can give boys and girls lifelong friendships with people around the world. He took a group of American players to Italy for a tournament a couple of years ago, which turned out to be a great experience for all involved. "They are still writing letters and e-mails with Italian players. We lost every game," he said with a laugh. "But what they brought back, they will never forget. If you ask them what was the score, they probably don't even remember." Part of the London United agreement includes an exchange program, invitations for elite players to attend soccer school tryouts, official Perugia uniforms, a coaches' workshop and an annual meeting involving all of Perugia's affiliated clubs in Italy in December."Am I saying I'm here to offer the best you can find? No. But I can tell you the system we have in place can offer something good," said Saviano, who is based in Wilmington, N.C.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Soccer orphans given a home

04/16/2003 London Free Press :
Thames Valley club teams were told there were no pitches for them in Strathroy.
By KATHY RUMLESKI AND RYAN PYETTE, Free Press Sports Reporters

Shut out from the public soccer pitches at home in Strathroy-Caradoc, 60 players from the Thames Valley Competitive Soccer Club have finally found a place to play -- in London. The London United competitive club has agreed to help the new Thames Valley club, whose players are entered in the London and District Youth Soccer League. The Township of Strathroy-Caradoc told the club last week no fields were available for its teams. Director Aldo Caranci said London United would welcome Thames Valley children to play in their program. London United officials met Monday night with the Thames Valley parents in Mt. Brydges and the process of feeding the teams into the United system has already begun. "We have agreed to take them on," Caranci said. "When I read that 60 people would be out of soccer, I was kind of ticked off. It's just awful." Thames Valley president Dale Brown said the arrangement has saved the club's major fundraiser -- a tournament on the May 31 weekend. "London United is trying to help. They're not trying to demolish our program," he said. "It had started as a temporary measure, but it is developing into something more than that. We found our clubs have identical philosophies. We're a junior club and there has been talk of us being a western franchise in the United system. "But we're keeping all our options open for 2004." All four affected Thames Valley teams will wear jerseys with the London United logo. However, one team will stay and play at a private field the Lions Club recently donated. The Elgin-Middlesex Soccer Association had promised to find a place for the 60 kids. "Our mandate is to promote and develop the game of soccer," EMSA president Bill Spence said. But the local governing body will not get involved in a dispute that has players fleeing the Strathroy area to play in London. Spence said he is concerned about soccer in Strathroy, but trying to resolve the problem is "a waste of time. There seems to be something every year. We have no problems at all from anyone else. It just seems to come from that one area." Longtime Strathroy soccer observer Doris Heisler, who fought to get girls into the game years ago, said she's disgusted with the fighting in the soccer community. "I'm disappointed adults can't act like adults. It pains me to know that girls are leaving to play in London." Brown said the township and other soccer groups have failed to recognize Thames Valley as an official club. He claimed there is a "smear campaign" against him in an attempt to destroy the club. Spence agreed some officials in Strathroy don't recognize Thames Valley. Spence also was critical of Tim Hanna, the township's director of recreation and leisure services, for acting as an adviser to Middlesex United. "It's definitely a conflict," he said. Hanna has said he would work with any group that sought his input, including Thames Valley. He said the only reason that club didn't get field space is because it is a new group and established clubs come first. He said there are more players than in the past and development of fields has not kept pace. But Spence said numbers are the same as last year. "There are no new players," he said. "(Thames Valley) is only a change of name. They're an existing club." Brown was hoping EMSA would call the two sides together for a meeting. One problem Brown asked EMSA to review was the use of the name Middlesex United after a Jan. 15 letter from EMSA to local soccer groups said the name was not permitted. Brown said his club will continue its push to have soccer cleaned up locally. Thames Valley will ask the Ontario Soccer Association to look into the situation. A club executive has spoken to a representative with the Tourism and Recreation Ministry. "I'm just so disappointed," Brown said. "We tried to follow the rules and and do the right thing. Other people don't and I guess they're going to get away with it."