NCAA to hear appeal for women's hoopster

Updated: September 11, 2004, 8:15 PM ET
Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. -- The University of South Florida will ask the NCAA to grant an exemption to its uniform policy and allow a Muslim player to wear Islamic clothing on the basketball court.

Andrea Armstrong, a Muslim convert, said she left the team and lost her athletic scholarship last week after her coach told her she could not wear religiously mandated clothing during practices or games. She wanted to wear long pants, a top with long sleeves and a head scarf.

School officials said Armstrong voluntarily left the team and was not pressured to do so.

In a meeting Friday involving Armstrong, the university and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, officials agreed the team would accommodate her Islamic attire and reinstate her scholarship. The university also agreed to work with the NCAA on this matter.

"An athlete should not be asked to choose between engaging in healthy sporting activities and her deeply held religious beliefs," said Ahmed Bedier, who took part in the meeting as Florida spokesman for CAIR.

"She is a valuable member of the team," added university spokeswoman Michelle Carlyon.

The NCAA's basketball rule book devotes five pages to uniforms but does not address religious issues. All players are required to wear the same uniform.

The NCAA offices in Indianapolis were closed Saturday, and calls to an NCAA spokesman were not immediately returned.

Other team members said they had no problems with Armstrong's conversion.

"We're not going to judge her by that," sophomore Rachel Sheats said.

Armstrong, 22, said she did not think her clothing would distract players or hamper her ability on the court.

At Towson University in Maryland, star player Tamir Goodman, an Orthodox Jew, wore a yarmulke on the court and did not play on the Jewish Sabbath. At the Athens Olympics, several female athletes wore head scarves.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press