By Phillip Whitten
TEMPE, Ariz., Feb. 25. AN NCAA Eligibility Committee handed down its decision several minutes ago, declaring that Arizona State University freshman Agnes Kovacs, 19, is eligible to compete at the Pac-10 Championships in Long Beach, Calif., this weekend and next month's NCAA Championships in Austin, Texas. In fact, the committee ruled Kovacs eligible for all four years of her undergraduate career.
Kovacs, the 2000 Olympic champion and 2001 world champion in the 200 meter breaststroke, has the nation's fastest time in the 200 yard breaststroke this year, 2:07.98. Her time is the second fastest in history. Only Kristy Kowal's US Open/NCAA record 2:07.66 is faster. Kowal finished second to Kovacs at the 2000 Olympics.
The match-up among Kovacs; 2001 Euro champ, Anne Poleska (Germany), who represents Alabama; and Stanford's Tara Kirk, figures to be one of the highlights of this year's NCAAs. It is likely that Kowal's once-untouchable record will fall.
Apparently, several coaches had filed a protest with the NCAA, questioning Kovacs' eligibility because, they alleged, she had accepted money in violation of NCAA rules.
Intrigue was added to the case when, swiminfo has learned, documents with forged signatures were sent from Hungary to the NCAA in Indianapolis.
ASU Coach Mike Chasson was ebullient when he learned the news. "Our case was incredibly strong," he said, "and they (Kovacs' accusers) had no case. But the NCAA had us jumping through hoops."
He added: "The last two weeks have been very tough on Agnes. She doesn't really understand how the NCAA operates. But she feels great today!"
"We've been working on this since last April when she first indicated she wanted to enroll at ASU. We anticipated that some coaches would try to have her declared ineligible, so we had affadavits and contracts ready to offer as proof. Really, the NCAA had no choice but to make the decision they did."
THE NCAA's ruling did include a stipulation that Kovacs repay some $8,000. But that stipulation is subject to appeal and Chasson indicated she definitely will appeal.
"Meanwhile, we leave for Pac-10s tomorrow," he said, "and this has been a great uplift for our team." The ASU Sun Devils are ranked #10 in the nation.