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Pundits say NCAA not harmful to Jamaica's junior athletes
Hydel High's Brianna Lyston reacts to winning the Class One 200m race during the Boys and Girls Athletics Championships at the National Stadium on Saturday, April 9, 2022. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

WHILE debate continues about whether junior athletes are making the best decisions for their careers in choosing to immediately end their secondary school career by signing professional contracts, another talking point has been where these athletes choose to go if they opt for a scholarship.

When junior athletes accept university scholarships, they typically end up in the United States of America, meaning they compete on the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) circuit.

The NCAA season starts in January with a number of indoor track and field meets and culminates in conference and national championship meets over the various college divisions in February and March, which is also when NCAA's outdoor season begins. The outdoor calendar, which consists of more meets, ends with its various championships in April and May (Divisions 2 and 3); however, there are some Division 1 teams that compete into June.

By June, Jamaica's athletes are also focusing on the National Junior and Senior Championships, which in most years decide national teams for various global championships which then take place later that summer.

There are sceptics in the local athletics community who say that the NCAA calendar is too hectic for these athletes. The preference, for people holding this opinion, is for junior athletes to stay in Jamaica and either join a local university or a local track club, meaning they then sign a professional contract. One argument made is that athletes are too fatigued to represent Jamaica after competing on the NCAA circuit.

But national coach Maurice Wilson disagrees. He says athletes gain excellent preparation for the rigours of regular major competition when they join American universities, and that these universities are under no obligation to consider their international schedules.

"When an athlete gets a scholarship of US$50,000 (J$7.5 million) to US$60,000 (J$9 million) [per year], the institution has no obligation to prepare them for anything other than the competitions that concern that school," Wilson told the Jamaica Observer.

"The association in the athlete's country, and the athlete's handlers must have some discussion with the coach and the university during the preparation, if they think that athlete has the ability to represent the country."

Olympian Danny McFarlane, a graduate of the University of Oklahoma, and former national 400m hurdler, says that worries about athlete burnout are misplaced as American athletes face the same challenges but are still able to achieve success each season.

"You've got a lot of American athletes that have been through the NCAA system and they're being paid well, and they do well." McFarlane told the Observer.

"Of course, you're gonna come out of the season a little bit tired, that's understandable. It's the same as competing at Champs (Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships), sometimes you come through a bit tired. But give yourself some time to recoup for the next meet."

McFarlane's comments about Champs can be seen as valid when the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association's athletics calendar is considered. High school athletes' seasons typically begin in December each year, with development meets such as the Tyser Mills Classics, staged by Calabar.

Athletes then continue their seasons at other various meets across the island, which are then followed by regional championships, and then Champs, traditionally staged in the final weekend of March. However, Champs was staged in April this year, and May last year because of challenges associated with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Athletes, depending on their form, are then selected to represent Jamaica at the Carifta Games, which traditionally take place yearly, during the Easter weekend. The focus then turns to the aforementioned summer schedule.

World Under-20 200m champion Brianna Lyston, formerly of Hydel High School, is the most recent high-profile local athlete to announce acceptance of enrolment in an American university. She will join Louisiana State University this autumn.

WILSON... the association in the athlete's country, and the athlete's handlers must have some discussion with the coach and the university during the preparation, if they think that athlete has the ability to represent the country (Photo: Observer file)
Jamaica's Brianna Lyston stretches during training at Stadium East on Friday, April 15, 2022. (Photo: Naphtali Junior)
MCFARLANE...you've got a lot of American athletes that have been through the NCAA system and they're being paid well (Photo: World Athletics)

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