U officials examine NCAA work rules

by Tim Klobuchar

Gophers men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins said he doesn’t want any of his scholarship players to work during the season because of their already rigorous schedule.
Athletes, while they like the option of earning money, tend to agree with Haskins.
Why then, have words like “disaster” and “nightmare” popped up in discussion of Proposition 62, the measure passed by the NCAA Board of Directors in late April that will allow student-athletes to earn up to $2,000 at a job during the season?
One eight-letter word that has struck fear into the hearts of athletic departments for years goes a long way toward explaining the negative reaction: boosters.
Proposition 62, which will take effect in August, allows boosters to arrange jobs for student-athletes, a mechanism that has conjured up horror stories in the minds of coaches and athletic department officials.
Gophers men’s athletics director Mark Dienhart has heard the stories. Although they were second-hand, he heard plenty of them last year at the NCAA convention when the measure was first adopted. It was then put on hold because of worries about enforcing it.
Now that the measure is ready to be tested, however, stories about athletes working at a car dealership so they have free use of a car, not to mention a cushy job with the possibility of under-the-table payoffs, have crept back into consciousnesses.
While the action has been praised for providing athletes with a chance to earn back some of the money they help make for their schools, possible headaches like the one mentioned above make Dienhart wonder if this is the right way to do it.
“In principle, it’s a good idea,” Dienhart said. “In practice, it’s going to be a difficult thing to pull off. It was a common sense thing to do, but it’s very difficult to enforce.”
Much of the burden for the enforcement will fall on schools’ compliance staffs, which will have to monitor athletes’ earnings. The biggest worries at most universities will likely be with football and men’s basketball, the sports that draw the most attention from boosters and produce the most money for athletics departments.
“I don’t know what the ultimate outcome is going to be, and whether this becomes part of the recruiting process with the revenue sports,” Gophers compliance director Chris Schoemann said. “Now is it going to be not only the opportunity to go to the Rose Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl or the Final Four, but also, ‘Hey, I can get you a better $2,000 job?’ That’s not what was intended here, but I think that’s a lot of folks’ fears.”
Dienhart said Minnesota might be a little safer from this dilemma, because compared to other universities, Minnesota doesn’t have many high-profile boosters. It does, however, enjoy a metropolitan setting, and along with that, more job opportunities off-campus.
This potential recruiting advantage could be a factor in all sports, not just revenue sports, as recruits look for the best place to prepare for life after sports.
“There’s no doubt,” Schoemann said. “Internally we’ve made no bones about the fact that we do feel as though we have a leg up because of the amount of folks and the amount of opportunities.”
Test of time
Student-athletes have always been permitted to work during the summer, and Dienhart said making sure that athletes are being paid only for what they do is a bigger concern in the summer, when there’s less scrutiny.
In all likelihood, far fewer athletes will work during the season because of the time crunch.
“For some people, they might be able to do it,” said Gophers women’s swimmer Gretchen Hegener. “But between balancing athletics, school, studying — it would be difficult to do.”
One reason there is so much concern over the new rule is that student-athletes will feel pressure to stretch themselves too thin in order to get extra spending money.
“Many times the student-athletes who are the most needy are the ones who are also the most academically underprepared,” Dienhart said, “and getting a job could potentially add another burden.”
Another worry is with the athletes’ demanding days during the season, employers might go out of their way to — ahem — ease their pain.
“I think (boosters) could find Mickey Mouse jobs for (athletes) and try to scheme,” Haskins said. “People are going to try to find a way to get around the rules, and this is one more way to do that and justify paying kids.”
What to do?
The men’s athletic department has talked to boosters in the past as a safety measure to warn them about potential violations. Proposition 62 has just intensified that.
“We’ve made that part of educational effort with the booster clubs,” Schoemann said. “We’ve been doing that, we’ve been trying to find as many vehicles as we can to get the word out amongst them that, ‘This is here. This is reality, and we can’t afford to let it go without utilizing the rule. That being said, we want your help, but we want to do it the right way.'”
Schoemann said the compliance staff will be very hands-on with employers, checking daily on student-athlete earnings, and bringing in extra assistance until they know how many athletes want a job. Right now, he said, no one’s sure how many will take advantage of the opportunity.
That sentiment applies to Proposition 62 as a whole. Some see it as a positive step for student-athletes to make up for the difference between the cost of a full scholarship and the cost of attending college. It has flaws, but it’s better than other alternatives.
“In the past the very neediest athletes have sometimes turned to organized gambling or point-shaving, partly because that was the only way in dealing with that difference,” Dienhart said. “I’d rather have them deal with it this way.”
That’s assuming potential employers behave themselves, something Haskins doesn’t think is guaranteed.
“I can see that it could create more problems and headaches than anything,” Haskins said. “I think we should go ahead and give the kids a stipend. That way we all know who’s making what. The way it’s going to be now, the cheaters are going to have a chance to cheat.”