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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, September 6, 2003

A lot of blame to go around

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Columnist

While four volleyball national championship banners hung motionless in the rafters of the Stan Sheriff Center yesterday morning, a fifth was occasionally given sudden movement by unseen drafts.

A portion of the banner representing the 2002 NCAA men's volleyball title stirred curiously as if in animated protest after its impending removal was announced in another corner of the facility.

Once a proud reminder of the school's only NCAA men's national team championship, it has now become a five-foot by eight-foot symbol of a lot gone wrong.

Indeed, there are few blameless parties to be found in this whole thing. On one hand, there is the NCAA, which has made a stunning example of UH in its crackdown on foreign athletes. The message is that the NCAA is no longer just scrutinizing the marquee sports for international players who have come into conflict with association policy. As it showed with suspensions during the tennis championships, no sport flies under the NCAA radar.

But there is a certain irony in this. The same enforcement arm that vigorously pursued the case of Costas Theocharidis this year was, almost right up to his senior year, also beseeching its members to liberalize the amateurism rules because of the confusion inherent in applying them to international players.

It is almost as if the enforcement folks said: "OK, if you want us to enforce this tangled mess, then make sure you follow all the rules to the letter — or suffer the consequences."

As for Theocharidis, who UH said was questioned on multiple occasions about whether he played for a team that met the NCAA definition of professional, it will only say he "was not totally forthcoming."

Hardly a ringing endorsement of innocence. Only when faced with documentary evidence, they say, did he come clean. And, by then, it was too late.

Of course, how many foreign athletes when confronted with a question that could cost them a subsidized education are going to willingly assist in their own departure?

Probably not many.

Which is why it behooved the school to apply a healthy dose of skepticism and do more than just ask the formula questions. Especially since the school's own media guide listed the team in Greece he had played for and a little added investigation might have raised red flags.

After UH's go-arounds with the NCAA on the eligibility of basketball players Haim Shimonovich and Predrag Savovic, the school should have been the leader in vigilance.

You wonder if the school had put as much time and effort into fulfilling its obligations as it did into debating how big its banner should be, it might not have been faced with surrendering its hard-won title.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.