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Archive for Sunday, July 22, 2007

Compliance Cops

Office serves curious KU fans, protects university from more investigations

Brochures available through the Kansas Athletics, Inc., compliance office outline the proper way for boosters, alumni and other fans to interact with athletes without drawing the ire of the NCAA.

Brochures available through the Kansas Athletics, Inc., compliance office outline the proper way for boosters, alumni and other fans to interact with athletes without drawing the ire of the NCAA.

July 22, 2007

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Every single day, the compliance office of Kansas Athletics, Inc., has phones ringing, e-mail inboxes dinging and strangers and friends dropping by to ask questions at random.

Each one is quite all right with compliance director Theresa Becker. For her, it's better they know rather than wonder.

With Kansas on probation stemming from an NCAA ruling passed down last fall, compliance is on high alert at KU. Becker and her staff are working year-round, staying visual to the rest of the athletic department and putting their creative brains together to try and get the message across as efficiently as possible to everyone who needs to hear it.

And the list is long.

Rules compliance is as challenging as ever. New rules are being added every year. Athletes, parents and recruits are constantly coming and going, and the new crop needs to be taught. And with the tight leash brought about by probation, there's little room for error at Kansas.

Becker feels encouraged by the job being done educating the athletes and staff members, many of whom are right down the hall from her office.

She never can completely feel at ease, however, when dealing with a gigantic fan base.

"It's certainly a challenge," Becker said. "It's probably one of the greater challenges, because we don't have the daily contact or the daily interaction."

And they can't force it, either. The frequent callers to the compliance office represent just a small sample of KU's fan base.

Outside interests, such as boosters and merchants, can get schools in trouble in a number of ways. Kansas had its own example, when a mentor of KU basketball player Darnell Jackson was determined to be a KU booster. Since Jackson received extra benefits from him, he was suspended eight games, and KU had another black eye heading into its 2006 meeting with the NCAA Committee on Infractions.

Oklahoma recently was punished because of a local merchant providing excessive benefits to OU football players. Similar cases pop up all over the nation, and it often goes on without any authority figures at the university having any awareness of it.

It seems unsettling that an athletic department is left to basically plead with its fan base to not let them down. But KU is finding that there's more to it than just hoping - creativity and an open-door policy have gone a long way.

"We've tried to reach out as much as possible," Becker said. "But it's a never-ending process. You never know what people are going to reference."

Brochures available through the Kansas Athletics, Inc., compliance office outline the proper way for boosters, alumni and other fans to interact with athletes without drawing the ire of the NCAA.

Brochures available through the Kansas Athletics, Inc., compliance office outline the proper way for boosters, alumni and other fans to interact with athletes without drawing the ire of the NCAA.

Getting the word out

The running joke around the athletic department really is no joke at all. It's a slogan brainstormed and applied to KU's compliance efforts recently.

Ask before you act.

The slogan has gathered legs around the department, to the point where it's preached even in non-compliance situations.

But it's just one way KU is trying to get the message across to its fans: What you do can have serious consquences for us, so give us a chance to show you right and wrong.

KU has put the "ask before you act" slogan on ink pens, in brochures and on a newly revamped compliance Web page at kuathletics.com.

Yet, the five-person compliance staff's creative wheels remain in motion. A new brochure is being made for parents of athletes, and plans are to update the booster brochure to make it more visual and easy to read. The new Web site debuted recently to positive reviews.

"It'll touch everybody from a booster to a prospect to a parent of a student-athlete to the parent of a prospect," Becker said of the site. "If people take the time and they have a question, they will go looking, and I think they will be able to find what they need."

In the last year, KU officials have noticed the increased liklihood of fans double-checking. Since the humbling run-in with the NCAA Committee on Infractions, KU lost scholarships in football and men's basketball and was given a very public black eye.

This was no double-secret probation. It was out there for everyone to see - and learn from.

"I think the whole process that we went through opened people's eyes," associate athletic director Jim Marchiony said.

It's made Becker and her staff even more busy. Phone calls come in every day. So do e-mails, a communication Becker prefers because it puts the question and answer in writing to document it and avoid confusion. Many boosters stop by and ask face-to-face.

Often, the questions are similar.

"We have wonderful fans who love our Jayhawks," Becker said. "The majority of the questions that come in are related to people who want to help."

All in charge

That includes whether it's OK to give extra tickets to athletes' families (not allowed), giving birthday cards to athletes (which is OK, just don't stuff cash into them), and other queries that could come close - or cross - the line between right and wrong.

Becker said the compliance staff always will be receptive to questions, knowing it could prevent another messy run-in with the NCAA. The "ask before you act" campaign insures that.

More ideas are in the works to reach out to fans, too, including video-board messages at football games this fall and letters sent to local merchants urging them to treat KU's athletes like anyone else.

The latest NCAA incident - which is nearing the one-year anniversary of its conclusion - also prompted KU's compliance office to look harder internally. Meetings have been set up with every department of Kansas Athletics - from media relations to sports medicine - to educate everyone on what's right and wrong.

It's exactly what the Committee on Infractions stressed when handing out its punishment last year.

Marchiony said the increased effort to educate staff members stemmed in part from the secondary violation involving donors giving gifts to graduated basketball players. A couple of the boosters claimed they inquired about whether it was right or not and apparently were given either unclear or wrong answers.

The thinking, therefore, is that making sure everyone is educated up top can help make things more clear everywhere else.

Even if it doesn't, the door remains open in the compliance office. Just in case you want to ask before : well, you know the rest.

"Compliance is not just my responsbility or my staff's responsibility," Becker said. "It's really all of our responsibilites."

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