NCAA may loosen rules for Katrina victims

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NCAA wants university officials and
student-athletes to focus on recovery efforts from Hurricane
Katrina rather than worry about infractions, schedule changes or
travel restrictions.

To help, college athletics' governing body may temporarily
adjust some of its most restrictive rules.
Steve Mallonee, the NCAA's managing director for membership
services, said Wednesday the NCAA is willing to give athletes and
universities more latitude to travel, provide more benefits to
athletes' families and even allow students to compete without
attending classes because of the storm that devastated the Gulf
"Any rule that can negatively impact an institution or the
student-athletes, I think we'll be proactive in," Mallonee told
The Associated Press. "The message we'd like is that we have a
process that can and will be flexible to any of our institutions
that are impacted."
Other potential changes include moving games to different
venues, extending seasons, and possibly allowing athletes' families
to stay on campuses.
In past years, schools have postponed or canceled games because
of hurricanes and other inclement weather. The NCAA allowed some
games to be rescheduled, and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks,
the nation's college games were postponed -- and most were
Still, the NCAA has a reputation for its rigid stances. The 2003
men's and women's basketball tournaments were not delayed by the
start of the Iraq war, the 1981 NCAA championship was played the
night President Reagan was shot and some people have complained the
organization is prone to following the letter of its voluminous
rule book rather than the intent.
But, the NCAA has never faced anything like this.
Experts predict it could take months for some areas, including
New Orleans, to recover. Classes could be canceled -- making
athletes at those schools ineligible under NCAA rules -- while other
schools may want to use football stadiums or basketball arenas as
relief centers.
That could force games to be canceled or moved.
The NCAA hopes a more flexible approach will give schools an
opportunity to help communities, allow athletes to assist family
and friends and compete on the playing field.
"The first priority of those schools caught in Katrina's path
is the students, staff and families who have been put in harm's
way," President Myles Brand said in a statement. "It is too early
to say what the exact solutions will be, but the national office
will work to accommodate these unique and unfortunate
The impact of the rules changes could be felt from coast to
Mallonee said, if Southern California had a basketball player
whose home was in New Orleans, the NCAA might ease some of its
travel restrictions to help him get to Los Angeles. Current rules
only allow schools to pay for necessary travel to and from school
events and limit the timeframe in which they can travel.
"They don't need to be worrying about whether the situations
they're reacting to violate NCAA rules," Mallonee said. "We want
them to do what they need to do."
Brand said the organization also would work with conference
officials on scheduling and other issues, including qualifying for
postseason bowls or tournaments.
Already, Mallonee said he has spoken with officials from the Big
12, Conference USA, Southeastern and Sun Belt. But with phone lines
and electricity sparse along the Gulf Coast, Mallonee said he has
not yet reached officials from schools such as LSU, Tulane and New
What the NCAA wants most, though, is for everyone to understand
that games are secondary to helping hurricane victims.
"Right now, we're focusing our priorities where they should be
-- on the people in the region," he said. "We need to make sure we
have our priorities right. We're the NCAA and we deal with it from
an athletic perspective. But this is much bigger than that. It puts
things in a unique perspective."