100 years later: Semi-pro bites Oklahoma again
A century after Jim Thorpe first played a brand of ball called “semi-pro,” the term has reared its head in Oklahoma again and threatens to cost an athlete in the state.
OU backup middle linebacker Mike Balogun, who started against Florida in the national championship game and played well, has been ruled ineligible by the NCAA for playing semi-pro football in 2005 and/or 2006, seasons after his 21st birthday, and Balogun’s status now depends on appeals and the lawsuit he has filed.
In 1913, Thorpe was stripped of his Olympic gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon because he was considered a professional, having played semi-pro baseball in Rocky Mount, N.C., in 1909 and 1910. Rocky Mount then was in the Eastern Carolina League.
Thorpe’s medals eventually were reinstated — but in 1983, a span of 70 years that if repeated doesn’t figure to help Balogun or the 2009 Sooners. Former Oklahoma Gov. George Nigh always says one of his proudest acts in office was in helping the drive to get Thorpe’s medals reinstated.
Balogun was ruled ineligible because he, allegedly, played for the Maryland Marauders and Prince George Jets in the North American Football League, after the age of 21. NCAA rules state that any year of playing organized football after a player turns 21 counts as a year of NCAA eligibility.
The term semi-pro is a poor word choice. It has been used for more than a century to describe any league outside of the organizing bodies that rule sport.
There is nothing professional about the North American Football League. It is amateur football at its purest level. The players aren’t paid, except on perhaps the most rare occasions. It’s grown men playing football for the fun of it. Not that I’m saying the NCAA rule is misguided. The NCAA has valid reasons for establishing eligibility; I’m not exactly sure why adult, amateur football leagues should count against a player’s ticking clock, but I don’t discount the rule out of hand. I plan to research exactly why the rule exists.
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