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Nike Tournament May Cost Star Ball Players Their Eligibility

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Some of the nation's top high school basketball players may have endangered their eligibility to play this season by participating in a competition sponsored by the Nike Corporation in Oregon last month.

Participants in the Sept. 10-11 tournament in Beaverton--the site of Nike's corporate headquarters--each received a $100 gift certificate, which violates regulations set by some state chapters of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

The fact that the event took place during the school year also violates some state regulations.

The shoe and apparel firm also paid for players' airfare, accommodations and meals, and provided them with an assortment of athletic wear, which is considered standard practice for such events.

Most of the 37 players who participated in the "Fab 40 Shootout'' should be able to play in the coming season if they return the merchandise they purchased with the certificates or their cash equivalent, according to Helen Upton, the federation's assistant director.

Event organizers telephoned the National Collegiate Athletic Association to determine whether the gift certificates would pose a problem, said Keith Peters, a Nike spokesman, but did not check with the national federation or the high school associations in the players' home states.

Stephen A. Mallonee, the director of legislative services for the N.C.A.A., said Nike representatives were told that high school athletes could not receive cash gifts, and that any other awards must adhere to the guidelines of the amateur sports organization governing the competition.

"It was certainly not our intent to create problems,'' Mr. Peters said.

Complicating the issue, he added, is that, while the N.C.A.A. has national standards applicable in all states, each chapter of the federation has its own rules and regulations.

Controlling Corporate Events

Many states have rules barring students from receiving cash or items greater than a certain value, Ms. Upton said. Some associations also prohibit students from participating in all-star camps or "shootouts'' during the basketball season or at any time during the school year.

"Our people certainly don't want to punish a young person for an adult miscommunication or error,'' she said. But the guidelines help prevent the corporate-sponsored sports events from disrupting students' studies, she added.

Oak Hill Academy, a Baptist boarding school in Mouth of Wilson, Va., that has produced about 40 Division 1 N.C.A.A. players over the past nine years, sent three students to the Nike event. As a result, the two seniors, Alex Sanders and Michael Maddox, and one junior, Mark Blount, were suspended by the state high school league for two games and instructed to return the merchandise.

Decreased playing time for seniors can diminish their chances for college scholarships.

The academy's athletic director and head basketball coach, Steve Smith, said he thought the students should not be penalized for unintentionally violating the rules.

"Our kids definitely didn't go out there to get a pair of shoes,'' he said. "They were there to play against the best players in the country and to be evaluated and for the competition.''

Others were more critical. "I don't know much about the Nike organization, but I would think [that] involved as they are with youngsters, it's their responsibility to check things out,'' said Gail L. Robinson, the acting director of athletics at Baltimore's Dunbar High School.

The Dunbar senior who participated in the event, Norman Nolan, will be able to play if he returns the Nike merchandise, she said.

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