The Top 40 Festival: Are We Architects of Our Own Demise?

Joan Gould
Water Polo Planet

Shortly after the invitations went out to players selected to compete in the 2008 Top 40 Festival, the NCAA stepped in to advise member coaches “an NCAA student-athlete’s participation in the Speedo Top 40 event is impermissible during the academic year as it does not meet the exception to NCAA outside competition legislation. “

From the NCAA to its League Commissioners:

TO:  Commissioners of NCAA Conferences that Sponsor
         Women’s Water Polo.

FROM:  Brian Streeter, chair
               NCAA Women’s Water Polo Committee.

SUBJECT:  Women’s Speedo Top 40 Festival and Open Tournament

This is to notify conferences that sponsor varsity women’s water polo teams competing at the NCAA National Collegiate level of the potential impact of student-athletes competing in the 7th Annual Speedo Top 40 Festival.  The Speedo Top 40 Festival is a USA Water Polo event scheduled to take place from October 24 - 26, 2008 at the USA Water Polo National Training Center in Los Alamitos, California.  The event features the nation’s best female water polo players, as selected by the USA Water Polo National Team coaching staff. 

NCAA Division I Bylaw (d) provides for an exception to the outside competition rule allowing student-athlete participation in official tryouts and competition involving national teams and junior national teams sponsored by the appropriate national governing bodies of the United States Olympic Committee.  However, based on the information provided by USA Water Polo, an NCAA student-athlete’s participation in the Speedo Top 40 event is impermissible during the academic year as it does not meet the exception to NCAA outside competition legislation.  Many of our NCAA women’s water polo student-athletes will be among those selected, but participating in this event could jeopardize their NCAA eligibility.

If the circumstances change and information given to the NCAA deems the Speedo Top 40 event to be permissible for NCAA student-athlete participation, we will notify everyone.  Until then, please inform all your institutions that sponsor women’s water polo competing at the NCAA National Collegiate level to steer away from this event.

Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

From the CWPA Commissioner to its coaches:

Date:    September 29, 2008
To:       Women’s Varsity Coaches
From:   Daniel Sharadin, Commissioner

Enclosed is a copy of a memo I received from the NCAA that indicates participation in the women’s Speedo Top 40 is not permissible under NCAA rules.

As you know we have repeatedly tried to work with USA Water Polo and have not had any success in gaining their cooperation to comply with the NCAA’s requests on this issue. If something changes I will let you know immediately. Until that time, any athlete that chooses to participate will be jeopardizing her eligibility.

Once again, the NCAA has stepped in to effectively squash the hopes and aspirations of kids throughout the country who dream of standing on the podium representing their country in the Olympics.

Once again, the CWPA Commissioner has stepped up to grandstand with unprofessional public darts tossed at another member of his lengthening "enemies list", USA Water Polo.

Why, we all ask? WHY cannot everyone just get along and work together for the betterment of the sport of water polo and JUST LET THE KIDS PLAY?

The NCAA Sub Committee on Endangered Sports makes impressive noises about “saving” sports like water polo but in the end, their remedial actions seem to be pathetically limited to participating in “liaison” positions to the USOC which appear to me to be little more than cocktail party and convention gravy trains for a few select NCAA bureaucrats. The FACT is that the NCAA has lost more water polo programs than it has gained in the past 5 years DESPITE the impact of Title IX. Additionally, there is NO evidence to suggest that the NCAA rushed in to even pick up the phone in an effort to “protect the student athlete” when the Grove City, Slippery Rock and Salem International and later UC Santa Cruz “student athletes” were assassinated by cost cutting school administrators. The abysmal record of the NCAA speaks for itself in the aquatic sports.

Interestingly, the CEO of USA Water Polo, Chris Ramsey took the time to send eloquent letters to the President of those Universities pleading for reinstatement of the programs and offered to pitch in to help endow the programs.

This years attempt by the NCAA to shut down the Top 40 Festival is the latest NCAA tactic to retain their monopoly on sports played by athletes in the 17-22 year old age bracket. No longer content to hold Division 1 football and basketball players tight in the grip of indentured servitude, the NCAA has branched out into the third tier sport of water polo, attempting to eliminate competition under the shallow guise of “protection” of the “student athlete.”

The NCAA's rules are a labyrinth of Byzantine mystery to anyone who has heard of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. What is encouraged in NCAA competition is forbidden (by the same institution) in other competitions even if that competition takes place in the summer…when school is not in session. It seems that in return for a “scholarship”, teenaged athletes must sell their souls to the company store, giving up any and all rights to participate in organized sports sponsored by any other entity.

The stated purpose of the NCAA “to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner “ has righteous words but shallow meaning for endangered sports like synchronized swimming and water polo in an environment that caters to the multi million dollar corporations of NCAA football and basketball. The time has come for the NCAA to fish or cut bait with the endangered sports…either relax the regulations to help nurture these sports or get out of the business altogether, keeping only the football and basketball moneymakers.

The NCAA needs to rethink their position on water polo and other “endangered” sports and use their significant clout to nurture rather than restrict its development. If this cannot be accomplished, I would ask if water polo might be better off following the example of college crew here in the East…where the institutions and athletes have fought a battle to keep the NCAA out…and neither the athletes nor the sport have suffered from the lack thereof.

If Water Polo is to survive in this country, we need everyone to work together to nurture the sport rather than hinder growth with petty dictators self crowned by personal interest and inflated self importance. We need to stop pointing the finger at the “other guy” and collectively encourage participation at every level of the sport. We need to all act like adults for the sake of our kids.

To The NCAA: Send a letter to USAWP telling them what they need to do to make the Top 40 festival NCAA compliant and get it done nowwithout bureaucratic nonsense.  Is that so darned difficult? For the interest of the Student Athlete?

To the CWPA Commissioner: Come on Dan ….Put on your big boy panties and stop with the cheap shots at USAWP. Give us all a lifetime ban on holding our kids hostage for your own power struggles.

To USAWP: NEVER EVER stop promoting and encouraging the dream to every kid across the country.

I was at a mens club tournament in Chicago this weekend where Adam Wright came all the way from California to compete with NYAC. Guys in the pool and kids in the stands were mesmerized to have a "real live Olympian" in "their" pool. This was not elite was competion with a mixed bag of former college and high school players and older men. Like a true Olympian, Adam Wright played with this group and had fun...exhibiting the clear traits of sportsmanship and love of the sport which greatly enhanced the entire experience of the hundred players and spectators. THIS is what a champion is. THIS is what we should collectively strive for. THIS is what we all want to be a part of.

I wish Guy Baker the best of luck at dealing with the NCAA behemoth.  Coming off an Olympic year in a sport where the USA won 2 silver medals, SURELY we adults can stop acting like petulant children and stop these turf battles.

If not…we will be the architects of our own demise.