In a surprise development at its annual convention, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) approved new legislation allowing athletes to work part-time jobs during the school year.
The new rule, which governs Division I schools and takes effect in August offers a mixed bag. Most folk agree that athletes deserve the opportunity to work and earn their own money — just like other students. But college athletic officials fear that monitoring jobs is sure to create monumental headaches for every athletic department.
Full athletic scholarships pay for tuition, books, plus room and board, but not other costs. Under the new rule, athletes’ earnings may not exceed what their school calculates as “incidental expenses” for the academic year, which range from $1,200 to $2.500.
Proponents of the change argued that in an age when many major colleges are making money hand over fist in football and basketball, it’s only reasonable that the athletes who play the games have the opportunity to earn some cash to go on a date, put gas in their car, or buy a burger and some fries.
The reason for the old ruling — which prohibited scholarship athletes from working except during the summer and approved school breaks — was to limit the potential for booster-related wrongdoing where boosters pay athletes for non-existent or dubious jobs.
“I have mixed emotions about [the new work rule],” says Hoke Wilder, compliance officer at the University of Georgia. Philosophically, it’s great. It’s long overdue. But from a compliance standpoint, it’s going to be one huge can of worms — a nightmare. This new rule will open doors in areas that historically, we haven’t had to worry about.
“It was such an emotional issue at the convention. It’s like apple pie and motherhood, so it was hard to vote against it. But as the convention came to a close, people were saying `Oh, oh. What have we done?'”
For compliance people, whose job it is to make sure their schools abide by NCAA rules, the headaches begin with the sheer number of athletes at a school. Cost of attendance figures vary from school to school. Even at the same school, costs vary depending on whether a student is in-state or out-of-state, living on- or off-campus.
As a result, all Division I schools will have to devise a system to determine the financial aid and earnings status of every athlete who wants to work. In addition, compliance officers will also have to determine the best method to monitor athletes’ paychecks and how to adjust those earnings if the income exceeds an athlete’s cost of attendance limit.
Inevitably, jobs will become an integral part of the recruiting wars as coaches go after the nation’s best athletes. Schools located in large, metropolitan areas will have a decided advantage over schools located in small, rural areas because the cities offer more jobs. On that basis, it will be difficult for the University of Oregon and Oregon State to compete with Southern California and UCLA. The same can be said for Georgia Tech (Ga.) having a leg up on Clemson (S.C.) and Auburn (Ala.).
Dealing with how to best handle cases where athletes exceed their income limit also poses problems. Does a youngster lose eligibility until they pay off the difference? Do you adjust the income for the next semester instead? Is it better to let them keep their eligibility and make installment payments?
Wilder admits that there’s much work to he done by August. And he confesses that at this juncture, there are more questions than answers.
“We don’t have all the answers,” Wilder says. “We don’t even have all the questions that need to be asked yet either. There have to be some reasonable safeguards to make sure that schools don’t use jobs as a recruiting advantage. We also need a way to handle those situations when someone goes over their [cost of attendance] limit.”
Another factor that compliance officers have to consider in monitoring jobs is having adequate staffing to handle the additional workload. Compliance offices at most schools tend to he small. Most have only one or two people on staff.
“Compliance offices are already overloaded with so many other things they’re already responsible for.” says Larry i Romanoff, Ohio State University’s compliance officer. “At Ohio State, we’ve got 800 athletes competing in thirty-four sports and about a third of those will be working. So it’s going to be difficult to monitor that without having the necessary staff to keep track of everything.”
Because of the potential problems associated with monitoring jobs, it’s likely that athletes will be steered toward on-campus jobs. That will help to lighten the compliance workload because the kinds of jobs, hours worked, and wages paid will be much easier to track. Whether or not there’s a concerted effort on the part of schools to place all their athletes in campus jobs as opposed to off-campus jobs, remains to be seen.
In the case of off-campus jobs, the major concern is ensuring that athletes are being paid at the same wage rate as any other college student. Athletes and employers will be required to sign an affidavit verifying the job’s legitimacy and pay scale. Employers will receive notice from the school on what that athlete’s income limit is for the academic year.
While the new NCAA rule sets the table for a heavier workload for compliance offices, it also opens some new horizons for athletes and athletic departments. For example:
* Pell Grants will not he included in the cost of attendance equation for figuring incidental expenses. As a result, athletes who get Pell Grants will he allowed to work, which will enable them to better handle their college expenses.
* Athletes may now take jobs in the athletic department and those joins will not be counted against the NCAA-prescribed scholarship limits for each sport.
In basketball, for instance, schools are allowed thirteen scholarships per year. Under the new rule, a school that has its thirteen scholarships filled! can add players as long as they’re not on scholarship. Those non-scholarship players will have a financial aid package which could include income from working for the athletic department as part-time employees. This way schools can stockpile players without having to go over their allotted number of scholarships.
“That’s the first thing I noticed about the new legislation,” says Rich Herezog, University of California at Los Angeles compliance officer. “With this new rule, on-campus employment is radically different now. Since those part-time jobs won’t count against scholarship limits anymore, that’s going to give schools the opportunity to bring in more people.”
Even though the new work rule is now in place, there’s still a strong sentiment that boosters, eager to give their favorite school a competitive edge, will somehow manage to stir up a scandal. Herezog is quick to admit that there’s sufficient potential for shady dealing, particularly in the revenue-producing sports. But he also wonders if concerns about rampant booster abuse are amply justified.
“With a lot of athletes, the window of opportunity will cut down a lot on the corruption that people have fears about,” he says. “The time demands that athletes have are such that it will prevent them from working a lot of hours anyway. They just won’t have the time.”
The NCAA work rule is now part of the college sports landscape, but that doesn’t mean that changes won’t be made. Schools still have to discover how to best implement this new piece of legislation.
The general consensus among compliance officers is that the way schools handle the work issue will evolve with time. But in the meantime, Romanoff said, schools are very likely to initiate lobbying efforts — as early as next year — to change the existing rule. “Over the next year, I can see a lot of violations with athletes going over their limit because it will be hard for the schools to monitor,” Romanoff explains.
“Once everyone sees how much of a monitoring nightmare this is, they’ll vote to remove the provision that limits income to incidental expenses.”
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