COLLEGE ATHLETICS' Freshman eligibility questioned

Once a hot issue, freshman eligibility is a fact of life these days in collegiate sports. The rule that kept freshmen off the varsity was overturned in the early 1970s, and rosters have been well stocked with first-year students almost ever since.

Earlier this week, however, an influential group of academicians indicated its desire for a return of freshman-less rosters. Presidents and chancellors of Pac-10 and Big Ten conference schools agreed to call for the elimination of the freshman-eligibility rule in football and basketball at January's NCAA convention.

The two conferences have traditionally opposed freshman eligibility on the grounds that it leads to undue pressures on the students and coaches to keep the players in good academic standing. The Pac-10, of course, is particularly sensitive to such dangers, having just disciplined five member schools for academic shenanigans aimed at keeping varsity ahtletes in uniform. Soutern Cal, UCLA, Arizona State, Oregon, and Oregon State were all declared ineligible for this season's conference football championship and any post-season bowl games.

At one point, college officials felt they had to shield freshmen by barring them from varsity competition. A young athlete needed time to adjust to campus life and its academic demands, the logic went. Eventually, however, those who argued that a young man old enough to go to war was old enough to play football won out.

Certainly, no one can argue that many freshman have the physical maturity required to play at the varsity level. Their impact is often greatest in basketball, where one key player can make a world difference. At Virginia, for example, 7 ft. 4 in. Ralph Sampson was "the franchise" last season. And the NCAA championship game saw UCLA start two freshmen guards and Louisville a freshman center.

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