Bruett keeps U athletics in compliance

J.T. Bruett serves as the director of compliance at the University.

Compliance Director Jt Bruett at Bierman Field Athletic Building on Tuesday. Bruett played professional baseball before his job at the University.

Holly Peterson

Compliance Director Jt Bruett at Bierman Field Athletic Building on Tuesday. Bruett played professional baseball before his job at the University.

by Nate Gotlieb

The University of Minnesota athletics department hasn’t logged a major NCAA infraction since the early 2000s. And that’s good news for current Director of Athletic Compliance J.T. Bruett.

Bruett, a former Gophers baseball player who played professionally, leads the University’s effort to stay in compliance with NCAA and Big Ten rules.

“It’s about making sure we have institutional control over athletics,” Bruett said. “There’s nothing that hurts an athletic department more, or even an institution, more than a major NCAA investigation and then ultimately … a major infraction.”

NCAA rules cover everything from amateurism and gambling to academic fraud and recruiting. Athletics departments are seldom praised for staying in compliance with them. But breaking the rules can lead to probation, scholarship reductions and postseason bans.

“We really want to do things the right way and be proactive and set a standard for our ethical conduct,” Gophers senior associate athletics director Beth Goetz said.

That’s where Bruett comes in.

He and his staff of five educate coaches, administrators and student-athletes on the aforementioned issues, along with the nuances of rules within each sport.

“We have an open-door policy, so we see a lot of our coaches on a daily basis, a lot of our staff on a daily basis with questions,” Bruett said.

The job is fast-paced, challenging and never dull, Bruett said. He’s often in a position to help coaches work through transfer issues and occasionally has to play the bad cop. That can include telling a coach about violations in a program or a student-athlete’s ineligibility.

“The compliance director’s not a pleasant position some days,” said Gophers head baseball coach John Anderson, Bruett’s friend and former coach. “I think J.T., because he’s sat in the other chairs, he understands, and he takes a very sensible approach to it.”

Bruett played center field for Anderson from 1986-88. He was known for his speed — his 77 stolen bases are third in Gophers history — and for snatching a home run during a nationally televised game.

The 1986 Gophers played Michigan at the Metrodome, and ESPN televised the game. A Michigan player hit a ball deep to right-center field. Bruett reached above the wall and robbed the player of a home run.

When the Gophers played an exhibition game against the Twins later in Bruett’s career, a certain major-league star had a word to say about the catch.

“I remember [Kirby Puckett] came back from spring training. He came over and said, ‘Who’s that guy making the catch out there like Kirby Puckett in center field?’” Anderson said. “Kirby was so excited. He appreciated what type of play that is, and [it] happened in the Metrodome in the place where he roamed, so he was proud of him.”

Bruett played with Puckett in the majors. The Twins drafted Bruett in 1988, and he briefly played for them during the 1992 and 1993 seasons, hitting .250 in 96 at-bats. After his major-league stint, he played a few seasons in the minors before retiring from professional baseball in 1996.

Bruett worked as an assistant baseball coach for the Gophers in 1998. He then accepted a coaching position at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where he received a master’s degree in sports administration.

Bruett briefly worked in compliance for UIC before he joined Minnesota’s compliance office in 2001, as it expanded from three to six staff members in wake of scandals within the men’s and women’s basketball programs.

He became the interim compliance director in June 2006, when then-director Frank Kara was diagnosed with cancer. Bruett officially became director in July 2007.

“He’s done a super job of educating people here,” Anderson said. “I just think his background has really led him, in my opinion, to be able to be really, really effective in a really difficult job.”