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Cougs, Batista wait for NCAA

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PROVO — A sense of uncertainty surrounds the BYU men's volleyball team as players, coaches and administrators await a decision from the current NCAA investigation regarding the amateur status of Cougar middle blocker Victor Batista.

Oh, there are a few certainties — BYU is still the nation's top-ranked team again this week, is still solidly atop the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation standings and is preparing to conclude its 2004 regular season with 7 p.m. matches Thursday and Saturday against Southern California.

Uncertainties include how and when the NCAA might make a decision on Batista and how a decision affects BYU's 2004 match results and record as well as the Cougars' postseason path to the MPSF playoffs and national championships — in the case of qualifying, seeding or even participating.

"I really don't have anything," said BYU head coach Tom Peterson, still declining to comment on the investigation. "We're just waiting to see what happens — we're trying to get everything in order."

Jim Kimmel, the compliance director for BYU's athletic department, said he and his staff are working to meet the requests of information sought in the past week by the NCAA.

"We're basically just gathering information," said Kimmel, adding that he has no indication of when an NCAA decision may be made.

BYU would prefer to have a quick decision to know of Batista's status and availability as well as how any decision affects postseason participation. Those throughout the volleyball scene would like to see a prompt resolution, rather than have a national championship be played for a third year under whisperings of suspicion and uncertainty.

The University of Hawaii was stripped of its 2002 NCAA title — a sanction the Warriors have appealed — because of a foreign player deemed to have played professionally in Greece. Defending champion Lewis University self-reported concerns to the NCAA after its 2003 championship season and has held two foreign players out of competition this season because of eligibility questions.

Since the NCAA has yet to rule on Hawaii's appeal and Lewis's disclosures, some in the volleyball world wonder if the NCAA is not only looking closely at individual circumstances but also reviewing interpretations of what constitutes professionalism and amateurism as well as how to deal with the foreign student-athlete in general.

"It's too bad — he's such a good person," said Peterson of Batista, saying he has watched the Dominican Republic native enthusiastically immerse himself in studies and verbally acknowledge that a college degree has become a bigger personal dream than a post-collegiate future in volleyball.

Peterson knows complaints and finger-pointing come with the territory of having a highly ranked program that others would force under the proverbial microscope. "People want to cause that distraction, I'm sure," he said.

His Cougars (22-4 overall and 18-2 in the MPSF) are trying to weather the controversy storm as they prepare to meet the USC Trojans (6-21, 4-16). "I think we're doing a pretty decent job," he said. "We try not to talk about it and just go about our business."

E-mail: taylor@desnews.com