Tracking athletes' jobs: Work is never finished

Issues include compensation and how an employer reflects on the college.

Published May 3, 2007

TAMPA - A college athlete in a sports bar taking tips for serving alcohol to fans and boosters seems a recipe for trouble.

So how could USF allow quarterback Matt Grothe to be in that situation?

Because it didn't know.

Grothe, 20, was arrested two weeks ago on a misdemeanor charge of serving alcohol to a minor while working at the Bull Ring Sports Bar, a USF-themed restaurant near campus.

It was a surprise to USF coaches and officials because Grothe had failed to follow an athletic department policy that asks all athletes to detail any job in writing before they begin work. Florida and Florida State have similar policies to monitor athletes' jobs.

"We tell them, 'We're not telling you where you can or cannot work, ' although in all honesty, if they said they were working at a certain place we might raise a red flag and talk about it, " said Steve Horton, USF's associate athletic director for compliance.

The NCAA has no specific rules about where an athlete can work, only that he or she be paid appropriately and only for work actually done. An athlete's celebrity status cannot be used to promote a product or establishment.

For UF associate athletic director Jamie McCloskey, communication is the key to monitoring athletes' jobs. When notified of a job, UF contacts the employer to go over NCAA guidelines, creating a file with information on hours worked and wages. Officials may even make a site visit to check on an athlete on the job.

"So if anyone says that I know Joe Smith worked at Denny's and made $10, 000, we'll have everything on file, " McCloskey said. "There have been issues at other schools and we're trying to not put ourselves in that position."

Legally, a school can't block an athlete from working, but it can strongly discourage work that would cast the university in a poor light. At FSU in 2001, offensive lineman Todd Williams was working as a bodyguard for an escort service. Coaches and administrators weren't aware of his employment until the Tallahassee Democrat published a story on the escort business, showing Williams in a picture.

"We don't believe in putting our student athletes in compromising situations, " said Bob Minnix, FSU's associate athletic director for compliance. "And we'll work hard to identify a job that will pay the same amount of money or close to the same amount of money with a business that's a little more wholesome."

Horton and Minnix estimated that about 10 percent of their athletes work during a given year. When linebacker Tyrone McKenzie transferred to USF from Iowa State, he worked as a security guard for hockey games at the St. Pete Times Forum; Bulls basketball star Jessica Dickson has helped ESPN during football broadcasts of USF games, working on the sideline.

Before they start working, all USF athletes are asked to fill out an "employment form, " including the job, wage, employer and contact information, and the form should be returned, including signatures from the athlete and employer, before the first day on the job.

There's greater scrutiny on athletes and their jobs since last summer, when Oklahoma dismissed starting quarterback Rhett Bomar after learning that he had been paid for more than he had worked at a local car dealership that had a business relationship with the Sooners athletic department. ESPN reported that Bomar had filed 40-hour work weeks when he had worked as few as five hours a week, making as much as $18, 000.

USF found no evidence of such violations with Grothe, but his entire compensation was in cash tips, making it difficult to monitor or verify how much he made. Their focus is on educating student athletes to make sure they understand the common-sense rules about what they should and should not accept.

"We're not going to stop you from working, " Horton said. "We just want to make sure you're aware that if the guy walks up to you and says, 'Hey, you're a great football player, here's an extra $100, make sure the sprinklers are turned on, ' that's not legal. You know it, we know it, we've been over it. In the long run, it's going to come back to bite you."