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PUERTO RICO HERALD
Superior Basketball League Chief: New NCAA Status Is A Blessing
By Gabrielle Paese
September 20, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
When life gives you lemons, make lemon meringue pie.
That's the attitude Puerto Rico Superior Basketball League (SBL) president Henry Neumann is taking this week as the island digests the full meaning of the NCAA's new ruling on Puerto Rico's Superior Volleyball and Basketball Leagues.
Once considered semi-pro by the NCAA, college's ruling sports body recently announced that Puerto Rico's leagues are now considered professional. Thus, NCAA Division I athletes who play in Puerto Rico's pro leagues will lose their NCAA eligibility.
While the NCAA gave Neumann and fellow Superior Volleyball League president Carlos Beltran the news last week, the ramifications are still sending shock waves through the sports community.
This week, several Women's SBL players (the league is currently in season), among them Carolina Gigantes shooting guard Carla Cortijo, announced they would no longer play in the WSBL for fear of endangering their options for college. Cortijo, like about 70 percent of the WSBL players, is still in high school.
Two weeks ago, the NCAA told Puerto Rico league officials that it would be enforcing a long-standing rule that prohibits NCAA Division I athletes from participating in foreign leagues in which players receive salaries. High school students also risk losing their NCAA eligibility if they play in the SBL.
"The NCAA's position is that the pro players contaminate the high school and college players," said Neumann, who called the ruling "hypocritical."
"You have agents that buy a high school student a pair of shoes and the boy is no longer eligible to play in college. The schools are making money off the students. We're not in agreement but it's their league and their policy," said Neumann. "What the NCAA has done for us is to force our league to take a stand and clear up what we are, a professional league," said Neumann. "Before, there was all this ambiguity and I don't like to operate that way. Now the decision is up to the kids. They have to decide, are they going to play pro ball or go to college?"
Puerto Rico Basketball Federation president and former Superior Basketball League (SBL) chief Hector "Hetin" Reyes scolded Neumann and the SBL's new guard for putting an end to an era of "amateurism" in the SBL.
"Puerto Rico was always the only league in the world that was exempt from the NCAA rule," said Reyes, who handed over the reins to Neumann two years ago. "But when the new directors of the league came in they wanted to bill the league as the Puerto Rican NBA and they openly discussed the salary cap. The NCAA was paying attention to that."
During Reyes' tenure, the NCAA exempted Puerto Rico's SBL league from pro status, with what was known locally as the Bartow clause. The ruling was named after then-national team coach Gene Bartow, who also coached the University of Alabama-Birmingham and its young star, Jerome Mincy. Mincy was at that time playing in Puerto Rico with the Bayamon Vaqueros and was an aspiring national team player.
"Our position was always that the players were only being paid per diem money and that the SBL season was one long tryout to select the national team," said Reyes. "The NCAA never permitted its college players to play in the pro leagues."
Neumann, on the other hand, said he's relieved not to have to be living a lie anymore.
"This makes our position clear now. We are a pro league," he said. "Now we can even consider no longer being a summer league and put an end to the eternal conflict with national team [summer] play."
No time to bask in the glory, Cotto's preparing for his next fight
While SBL officials helped themselves to a generous piece of the lemon meringue, top Puerto Rican boxing prospect Miguel Cotto served himself up a sliver the sweet stuff this week as his trainers, father Miguel and uncle Evangelista, granted him a one-week license to break his diet.
Cotto earned his beloved bakery snacks last weekend after he outpointed veteran John Brown on the co-feature of the Oscar De la Hoya victory over Fernando Vargas.
The Caguas native and former Olympian, who is now 12-0, 9 KO, won't get to eat too many mallorcas, though. Cotto has to get back in the ring next week to prepare for his seventh fight of 2002, versus a still-to-be-named opponent on an ESPN fight card scheduled for Caguas on Nov. 23.
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said his team is still working on finding a worthy rival for the hard-hitting Cotto, but guaranteed that the fight will take place.
"Cotto is one of the best prospects we've ever had," Arum said.
"At this stage of his career, Miguel is more advanced than either Oscar [De la Hoya] or Floyd Mayweather Jr. were at this phase of their careers."
Arum didn't rule out the possibility that Cotto will be vying for a title as early as November of next year.
"We think by then he might even be ready to fight [IBF, WBA and WBC belt holder] Kostya Tszyu," Arum said.
Promoter Don King is reportedly putting the finishing touches on a heavyweight multi-fight deal that would feature Evander Holyfield vs. Chris Byrd and WBA heavyweight champion John Ruiz versus undisputed light heavyweight champ Roy Jones Jr. The winners of each respective bout would subsequently fight for the IBF heavyweight title Lennox Lewis recently sold to King for $1 million plus.
Meanwhile, back in Puerto Rico, local boxing commission Jose "Toto" Penagaricano likely fanned the flames of Felix Trinidad Sr.'s ire after Penagaricano suggested that Oscar De la Hoya might be eligible for the island's Boxer of the Year honors.
While De la Hoya is not Puerto Rican (Golden Boy is of Mexican descent and was raised on the mean streets of L.A.), he is married to Puerto Rican singer Millie Corretjer and the two own a $3 million home in Puerto Rico. Penagaricano taunted Trinidad Sr. by hinting that De la Hoya might be eligible for local awards because he is married to a Puerto Rican and resides on the island.
Last year, Trinidad Sr. took the Boxing Commission to court after it named John Ruiz Boxer of the Year. Trinidad Sr. at first argued that Ruiz was ineligible because the WBA heavyweight champ was not born on the island nor does he reside here.
Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at email@example.com.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.