Student-Athletes at Work: NCAA Work Rule Will Be "Difficult to Monitor"

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Student-Athletes at Work: NCAA Work Rule Will Be "Difficult to Monitor".

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 be 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. …