Interns give Eastern Michigan University's NCAA compliance office more eyes, ears on the field
Melanie Maxwell I AnnArbor.com
Compliance is a time-consuming effort: officials need to have a grasp of the NCAA's labyrinth of rules and they must fill out stacks of paperwork for each sport. Monitoring a full practice is a three- to four-hour commitment.
Yet constant vigilance can save schools from a lot of trouble.
A cloud hangs over an otherwise successful 2009-10 season for EMU's women's basketball team because the program was found in violation of four NCAA rules, including exceeding allowed practice times. As a penalty, coaching officials were suspended, pay was frozen and the NCAA levied additional sanctions against the team. Coach AnnMarie Gilbert resigned following the 2012 season and was replaced by Tory Verdi.
The incident helped the school realize that while its compliance team might be thin, something would have to change to avoid future infractions.
"We needed more eyes, ears and time," said Chris Hoppe, associate athletic director for compliance at EMU.
"No one has enough staff or enough time," he offered. "We find a way."
Hoppe's "way" includes something relatively rare in the world of college compliance: having interns attend practices and record what they observe.
For the past year the school has used between five and seven interns a semester to attend practices and games and fill out a compliance form. The interns, including sports management and business majors, are schooled in basic NCAA rules but are not, officials say, asked to make judgement calls.
"The forms are really designed to be as efficient as possible, where you wouldn't have to have an in-depth understanding or professional knowledge of the rules to answer the questions," said Lorne Robertson, assistant director of compliance at EMU.
Added Hoppe: "They're not meant to enforce the rules."
Interns are also not permitted to monitor men's football or basketball and women's basketball practices and games, where NCAA rules are notoriously complicated.
The change has allowed the compliance office to monitor each active sport once a week, attending full home games and practices and at least one away game per sport each season — something few schools with similar resources accomplish, Hoppe said. Women's basketball is monitored twice a week.
Officials say the increased presence not only helps the compliance office catch more mistakes, but it helps players and coaches become more familiar and comfortable with the office.
"We want to get to the small problems, keep them small. By that I mean just discovering an issue before it happens again and again," Hoppe said.
Robertson, a former intern, says the for-credit internships give students a "foot in the door" to a competitive business. Compliance workers constantly get employment inquiries, he said.
"I got tons of exposure very quickly," said Robertson, a lawyer who switched careers, first interning for the compliance office in 2011.
The internships are unpaid, and Robertson and his wife each took a second job to soften the financial blow. Eventually, however, Robertson became a graduate assistant and received a stipend, roughly $7,000 a year, and free tuition for EMU classes. Then, in 2012, he was hired in the compliance office full time.
Other interns have gone on to work at major universities in Denver, Hawaii and Florida.
Meanwhile, the compliance office has made other operational changes in recent years, including using electronic databases to log practice times and requiring that student athletes watch educational webcasts each month.